Parents of children attending Indian Trail Elementary School in Downers Grove are on a mission to raise enough money to replace the old playgrounds with newer, safer equipment.
Tina Bogatitus, a member of the Indian Trail PTA and parent of a fourth grader and second grader at the school, said because of the equipment’s age, getting replacement parts is challenging.
“As a parent, the structure is visually unappealing, located too close to the parking lot and dumpsters, and for at least eight years, the zip line has not worked,” she said.
Indian Trail, which is part of Downers Grove Elementary School District 58, is unique in that it not only serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade but is also one of two homes to Grove Children’s Preschool, Bogatitus said.
“We have two playgrounds as a result, one geared toward smaller children and one for older children. The main, older children’s playground was installed around 2000. The little children’s playground was installed in the 1980s, with one exception for a stand-alone firetruck structure. The older equipment in this area has been roped off frequently, but even when it isn’t, the teachers do not let the kids play on certain structures because of potential injury and because it is made of metal,” she said.
The total projected price tag to replace both structures is $307,000. Indian Trail and Grove Children’s Preschool have been awarded a $195,000 grant from the state to offset costs of the improvement project. Plans call for replacing the existing playgrounds with new equipment and additional site improvement work such as moving the playground away from the busy street and combining multiple play areas into two dedicated spaces for students.
“The new footprint will provide teachers and recess supervisors with better visibility of the students at all times,” Bogatitus said. “The playground equipment itself is less than a third of the overall project budget.”
District 58 officials said recently they can contribute at least $11,000 toward project costs, Bogatitus said.
“Playground funding is reliant on parents and local school communities as school districts do not cover the costs of playgrounds in totality. While the district 100% supports these initiatives, they just do not have the budget funds available to undertake them,” she said. “Indian Trail is one of 11 elementary schools within District 58, and seven other schools are also undergoing playground upgrades next summer.”
Indian Trail, however, which has a student population of 380 students, has the second-highest rate of low-income families in the district, Bogatitus said.
“Which makes private fundraising efforts more difficult in our school,” she said.
A group of parents and teachers formed the PTA Playground Committee earlier this year and Bogatitus said they have spent countless hours trying to come up with ways to raise money and research grants.
“All in hopes of giving these kids something to be excited about,” she said. “Nearly every parent on the committee works full time but dedicates their time to this effort. Also, Indian Trail is lucky enough to have the support of the teachers as they agree a new playground is much needed.”
A student-run lemonade stand fundraiser in mid-September brought in $2,586, and $3,500 has been raised primarily from individual donations by parents, families and staff.
“We are continuing our efforts to seek sponsors, host fundraising events and apply for grants,” Bogatitus said. “However, if we do not hit our number, that would mean we would have to scale back our plan and we would end up with something smaller than what our current playground is.”
Committee members are hoping the funding will come through for Indian Trail.
“Our kids deserve equitable access to quality playgrounds and outdoor time that promotes healthy bodies, healthy minds and a fun environment while at school,” Bogatitus said.
Indian Trail Principal Tracey Ratner is excited about the prospect of a new playground.
“I strongly believe in the power of play for children and believe that this will be beneficial to our students,” Ratner said.
If the funding goal is reached, Ratner said construction could start next summer.
“Meaning the playground would be ready for students coming into the 2023-24 school year,” she said. “I am hoping that the community comes together to fundraise and get it done. I think that coming together with a goal in mind always helps bring our community closer together.”
For more information about the fundraiser, visit https://www.itpta.org/newplayground/.