Students Get the Gift of Fun

Community support transforms decrepit playground to joyful experience for students

Wells Combined School student Reno Middleton goes hands-free on a swing at the school’s recently overhauled playground. Photos by CarolLee Egbert

By Dianna Troyer

Unlike last year, Wells Combined School students laugh and scream at their new playground. For several years, they made the best of the worn-out equipment with missing monkey bar rungs and some swings.

“Now there’s a waiting line at the merry-go-round,” says Parent-Teacher Organization member Ashley Hansen. “It’s great to see all the smiles.”

Ashley spearheaded a two-year fundraising effort to buy and install the $25,000 playground.

Curious to hear feedback about the new swings, tire swings, merry-go-round and climber, Principal Shaun Taylor approached the teachers. The responses the teachers heard include:

“The merry-go-round is fun because it goes so fast.”

“I can do flips and other tricks from the monkey bars.”

“When the tire swing spins or you do the donut, it makes you scream.”

“On the swings, I can go high and touch the tree.”

Shaun says Ashley’s determination and persistence impressed him.

“When she decides to make something happen, it will happen,” Shaun says. “Against all odds, she helped the PTO raise the money to pay for it.”

Kason Goolsby takes a turn at tetherball.

Ashley and her family put action behind their words.

“They were at the playground for what seemed like three weeks straight, morning, noon and night, either tearing down the old equipment or erecting the new pieces,” Shaun says. “She’s a fantastic lady with a great family, giving of herself to make the playground happen.”

During summer, volunteers spent a week installing equipment so the new playground would be ready for the school year.

“We saved about $15,000 with installation because my husband, Aron, and I were project managers,” Ashley says.

Ashley says she never realized how deteriorated the playground was until her children started school.

“The slide was cracked and couldn’t be repaired because the parts were discontinued,” she says. “It was boarded up and eventually hauled away. Some swings were gone. On the monkey bars, some rungs were missing. There wasn’t much equipment to play on.”

In 2016, the PTO began raising money. Members organized father-daughter dances, mother-son game nights, a Halloween carnival, Polar Express movie night, mother-son escape room, color walk and weight loss challenge.

Ashley Hansen spearheaded the fundraising effort to update the Wells Combined School playground.

“So many people donated,” Ashley says. “During the 2017 Wells Fun Run, the High Desert Cruisers asked for donations and collected more than $1,200 during the weekend.”

Once money was raised, Ashley asked students, the school nurse, administrators and the recess duty teacher what to order.

“Cost was a factor,” she says. “We wanted the biggest bang for our buck.”

Staff at other schools in the district advised her to buy equipment from Big T Recreation in Ogden, Utah.

“They supply Playworld equipment and are considered innovators in commercial playground equipment for parks, schools and day cares,” Ashley says.

When the equipment arrived, she asked for volunteers via social media, flyers and the local newspaper.

“More than 50 people came,” Ashley says. “It was amazing.”

Students climb on one of the new toy installations at the playground.

The city of Wells’ public works department staff and Mitch Smith used heavy equipment to remove gravel and the old equipment. Roadway donated concrete and a dump truck to remove gravel.

Driving his skid steer, Bryan Runnion dug holes and leveled the surface to spread wood chips.

With the surface prepared, equipment was placed in a pile where it would be erected.

“Each pile had the pieces, tools needed to put it together, hardware and instructions,” Ashley says. “The day of the build, a volunteer in each group was the leader and the others helped. When we were all done, we had a free lunch donated from Subway, Petro and Blach Distributing.”

Gratified to see phase one complete, Ashley envisions more.

“Phase two for the last big piece of equipment will cost about $40,000, so we’re still looking for donations of any amount,” she says.

The last piece is a series of interconnected slides and walkways.

Donations can be mailed to the school at P.O. Box 338, Wells, Nevada 89835.