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Parents look to raise money for new Freedom Elementary playground

Playground equipment at Freedom Elementary School is roped off with yellow caution tape. It was condemned by Carroll County Public Schools and it’s up to the school community to pay for a new one.

Freedom’s PTA is asking the public to help them raise $100,000 for a new and improved playground by the fall. They created a GoFundMe page and a video to bring awareness to their efforts.

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Principal Jessica Smith said they knew they needed a new playground, but the pandemic canceled some of their fundraising initiatives like Spring Bingo and last fall’s Fun Run. The principal said they have a supportive community and is blown away by everyone coming together to help. One of the parents who does video production donated his time to create a five-minute video about the playground, Smith said.

“We thought a video would be great just to put the word out there,” Smith said. “If they just knew about the status of the playground … it could alert people.”

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Students have found ways to have fun at recess even after the playground was roped off around January, Smith said.

“Right now, the kids are great at using their imagination,” she said, adding they play in the fields and a smaller part of the playground that isn’t roped off.

Todd Souder is one of the parents involved in the playground project. He was the PTA president for four years and returned to help with the planning and fundraising.

“In the last 30 days, we really ramped up our efforts,” he said, complimenting the principals and all the parents involved.

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Souder said the project will be three phases but they are not yet ready to reveal the plan. He did say, however, the new playground will have multiple climbing walls and ropes, multiple slides and features that would be fun for a range of children. Souder also said they are surveying kids to see what parts of a playground they like most.

He said they probably need about $60,000 or $70,000 to get started. The first two phases would cost $100,000 and $150,000 for all three. Souder added it might take two years to raise the full amount.

Souder, who works in construction and has built playgrounds before, said the new playground will address the accessibility needs for not just students with physical disabilities but disabilities like autism as well. They are still working through the design, he said, and had a meeting Monday night about how to raise more money. He added they are trying to get an $18,000 grant from the county’s recreation and parks department and working to get sponsors for the playground. He said it’s already been a tough year.

The school board recently voted to return students back to full-time learning and the board approved a return plan last week that still awaits MSDE approval. Elementary school students are scheduled to return March 15 and the rest of the schools are scheduled to return March 22.

“The goal is to try to get something in place in the fall,” Souder said.

Raymond Prokop, director of facilities management, said his department has a trained safety coordinator that inspects playgrounds. He said a few factors can cause a playground to be condemned, like deteriorated or vandalized equipment and updated safety regulations. He said schools have raised money, asked for donations and have access to a grant from the county.

The GoFundMe Page for the playground has raised nearly $18,000 in less than a week. And Souder said they are in a good place financially to pay for phase one of the design. He said the taped off playground is “a mess” but it served hundreds of kids at the school and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“I just want the kids to have fun while they’re in school,” he said.

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