Ground breaking ceremony included Board members Jamie Childress, Garland Harrof, Mary Lingle, Bonnie Reed, George Strub, and Seth Jewel; Superintendent Jay Ratcliff, Elementary Principal Donna Varnado, Assistant Elementary Principal Andrea Blavier; Transportation Director Wayne Weese, Maintenance Director Michael Crews; and very special guest, Kindergarten student Miss Anastasia Baker.

Think back to your elementary school days. What did you look forward to more than anything? That’s right…RECESS! Running out to the playground to continue yesterday’s game of baseball, grabbing the ‘best swing,’ checking that metal slide to be sure it wasn’t too hot, or hoping last night’s rain hadn’t washed away the hopscotch board. RECESS…time with best friends and we loved it. Fast forward several decades, and while kids of all ages have a vast array of electronic gadgets, RECESS still tops the chart during the school day.

Big Sandy’s 30-year old elementary playground (PreK through 5th grade) was in need of an upgrade and Superintendent Jay Ratcliff said it was one of those projects he has had in mind since he came in 2016. Studies show that playtime is extremely important to kids. And a proper playground is something that needs to be maintained, and in this case, modernized. However, economically, the time wasn’t right…until now.

Mr. Ratcliff said about six months ago, he met with Elementary Principal Donna Varnado and talked about the playground’s history. Some pieces of equipment had become worn – for example, slides. They were down to one slide because the others had become hazards and were removed. The decision was made to check on upgrading equipment. As they began to research, they discovered that used equipment was scarce, sometimes requiring repairs and new was expensive. Mr. Ratcliff met with Wayne Weese, Maintenance and Transportation Director, and told him he would like to spend less than $100,000 on a new playground. Mrs. Varnado was pleased.

They received quotes from many different companies, but the one that impressed them the most – with designs, pricing, and service – was Child’s Play. ( Child’s Play offered several models with a quote of approximately $70,000. This past Spring, Mr. Ratcliff met with the School Board and asked that they approve a fund-balance allocation. (Fund-balance is like a ‘savings account’ for a school district. BSISD has a very strong fund-balance.) The Board voted to allocate the recommended $70,000.

Next step was to narrow the selection between two models and Mr. Ratcliff asked Mrs. Varnado and the elementary teachers choose which design they believed their students would prefer. The winning design was upgraded a bit. They didn’t want plain, woodchip ‘fall-zone’ material. (‘Fall-zone’ material a safety requirement on all playgrounds in the State of Texas and has very strict parameters – thickness, softness, etc., to minimize fall-related injuries.) The woodchip material rots, molds, and eventually disintegrates to dirt. Plus, it has to be back-filled every year which creating another expense. The decision was made to use a rubberized fall-zone material – recycled material, safest available and it’s Big Sandy Wildcat blue!

After the upgrade, the final quote was $70,795 Add several thousand dollars to this for demolition and removal of the existing equipment, dirt work to correct a drainage issue, addition of dirt and sand…it’s over budget and the project is now on hold. Mr. Ratcliff asked for an additional $10,000 to complete the project and the Board graciously approved the request…$80,000 for the entire project.

Taking down playground equipment: from Sit’em Down Cowboy Church: Rickey Caughron operating the backhoe while Boo Buchheit assists.

(Here’s where the ‘community’ part of the story begins.) Mr. Ratcliff suggested the school donate the old playground equipment to an organization in the community. Mr. Weese suggested they contact Wayne Davis and ask if Sit’em Down Cowboy Church would like to have the equipment for their growing youth groups. Church leaders were thrilled with the offer and even assisted with some of the removal. TWS Drilling (owned by Wayne Davis and Tom Bender) supplied equipment and manpower. They spent many days at the playground – cleaning, grading, bringing in dirt and sand – to prepare for construction. This partnership between BSISD, Sit’em Down Cowboy Church, and TWS Drilling saved the District thousands of dollars, bringing the cost of the playground is back to $70,795.

The official groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 11th and completion date is projected to be mid-August. As taxpayers, we all should thank the School Board, Mr. Ratcliff, Mrs. Varnado, Mr. Weese, and the elementary school teachers for being good stewards of our tax dollars. And thanks to Mr. Davis, TWS Drilling employees, and Sit’em Down Cowboy Church members for their community spirit.