Lack of funds delays Johnson playground project

Rick Wagner • Jan 29, 2018 at 9:50 AM

KINGSPORT — Plans to build a new nearly $200,000 “castle” playground at Johnson Elementary School are still on track, but they have taken a detour and have been delayed. Fundraising efforts continue, and the project could get back on course, a school official said, if a corporate sponsor would step forward with a sizable financial contribution.

The current playground, built in 1990 and used year round by folks across Kingsport and beyond, is nearing the end of its useful life, and plans are to reconstruct it using a longer-lasting composite material than the current wood.


Johnson Principal Stacy Edwards said the playground project originally was envisioned for completion in 2016 or 2017. A 2015 visioning process with a designer from Play by Design occurred with students at the school, but fundraising has held the project back. 

“The original project was well over $250,000,” Edwards said.

At one time its cost was estimated at about $375,000. The Johnson Parent Teacher Organization has been continually fundraising the past few years with almost all that money being squirreled away and earmarked for the project.

At the same time, however, Edwards said the PTO reached out to the design company to seek a less expensive but still functional ground covering in an effort to cut costs.

“The cost now has been reduced somewhat.”

PTO President Jessica Hogan said the current wooden structure, which is more than 27 years old, is still deemed safe, although her son recently had a splinter about six inches long removed from the sole of his shoe.


Hogan said the PTO as of Jan. 25 had raised $66,614.31 for the project, which has a current projected budget of $187,387.52. She said the original plans included a poured rubber surface but were amended to include a more economical mulch surface.

A March 5-26 fundraiser, based on the Leader in Me program at Johnson, will have students taking part in a three-week Lead-a-Thon. She said a fall 2017 cookie dough and popcorn fundraiser generated about $14,000 for the project, which she said was the largest fundraiser in the school’s history.

In addition, the PTO is continuing to sell pickets for $50 each that will bear the name of individuals, businesses or groups and be part of a fence at the completed playground, which will include areas for younger children and toddlers in addition to older children and equipment appropriate for those with physical challenges.

“The PTO is continuing to seek out corporate sponsors,” Edwards said. He said the school system has not ruled out providing some assistance with funding but that it is unrealistic for the school system or city to fund $100,000 or so for a playground, even one heavily used by the community and the school, when other schools generally raise money for their own playgrounds.

Hogan and Edwards said that when the PTO coffers reach 70 percent of the playground’s cost, the plan is that Play by Design will start organizing the community build, probably for the spring or early fall. Hogan said that likely would be the fall of 2018 or spring of 2019.


In a recent school system budget meeting, Edwards said Board of Education President Susan Lodal said the Johnson playground is the second most used park in Kingsport behind Darrell’s Dream, geared for special needs children, at Warriors Path State Park. Lodal Thursday said that was based on information from the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee. However, she said it was unlikely the school system or city would contribute toward the playground and that other schools have requested playground funding from the school system like Johnson has.

Lodal said she was on the committee in charge of food that helped with the original community build, supported by Civitan Clubs, the school and other community partners.

Pat Turner headed up the effort.

“We had to feed up to 1,000 people (community build volunteers) in half an hour,” Lodal said. “It was all by donations.”