UPDATED: Time for selfie shots and photos at Johnson's 'Castle' playground ends Thursday night, Dec. 20

Rick Wagner • Dec 13, 2018 at 6:00 PM

Editor’s note: Kingsport City Schools (KSC) announced Friday afternoon that the last chance to get photographs at Johnson Elementary School’s “castle” playground will be the night of Thursday, Dec. 20. Demolition is expected to begin after 12:15 p.m. early dismissal Friday, Dec. 21. No word as of Friday afternoon if or when the whole student body will be in a photo at the playground.

The public is invited to visit the playground 3:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on school days, Monday, Dec. 17, through Thursday, Dec. 20, and 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on non-school days, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15-16.

Here’s the Friday afternoon news release from KCS Communications Editor Marybeth McLain:

“Kingsport City Schools, Andrew Johnson Elementary School, and the Andrew Johnson Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization are inviting the Kingsport community and regional friends of The Castle Playground to come out and take their final photo (between now and the night of Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018) at the iconic wooden play structure located on Johnson Elementary School property, before the play structure will be demolished and replaced.

“The Castle Playground has entertained young residents of Kingsport and the Tri-Cities area for decades. After a quarter-century, the iconic wooden structure, originally built by community volunteers, has reached the end of its expected life. The construction of the reimagined Castle Playground, designed primarily by current Johnson Elementary students, is sponsored by the Johnson Elementary PTO, a non-profit organization. The vision is to rebuild a community funded, accessible, innovative playground for all children of Kingsport.

“The expected demolition date will be Friday, Dec. 21, 2018 after school dismissal at 12:15 p.m.

The new playground construction will take place from March 5-10, 2019. More than 1,000 volunteers (both skilled and non-skilled) from across Kingsport came out a decade ago to construct the community playground. Whether you are a skilled craftsman or just wanting an opportunity to improve the community, you can help by becoming a volunteer. There are four ways in which you can help make the new Castle a reality: 1.) Volunteer - build the playground or serve meals/drinks, 2.) Donate - Supply materials and/or lend tools to build the playground, 3.) Sponsor - Lunch, dinner or snacks for the volunteers, and 4.) Financial Contribution - The PTO has attained 69 percent of its $275,000 total budget.

“There are three four-hour shifts to choose from. 1st Shift: 8 a.m.-12 p.m. (lunch provided); 2nd Shift: 12:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. (dinner provided); and 3rd Shift: 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Please take note of the volunteer age requirements; you must be 14 or older to serve meals and 18 or older to build the playground.

“For more information, to register as a volunteer or to supply materials/tools or to make a financial contribution, visit castleofkingsport.com.”


Original article:

KINGSPORT — If you play or once played on Kingsport’s second-most-utilized playground, better get that cell phone out for a selfie soon.

In other words, if you want a photo of yourself at the iconic “castle” at Johnson Elementary School before the playground is demolished and replaced, you’d better get moving. For more information, go to the website castleofkingsport.com.


Ashley Hill, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Johnson, said that the old wooden playground will be torn down  during Christmas break. She is urging folks who use or have used the community playground to take photos before the original version is replaced.

Hill said individual classes already have been having photos made at the playground, but at some point before the holiday break the entire student body is supposed to come out to the playground to have its photo made from a drone flying overhead. (That had been set for Wednesday, Dec. 12, but school was out that day because of the recent snowy weather.) Whenever the drone shoot is rescheduled, the school system has urged Johnson parents to be sure their children have clothes appropriate for being outside in cold weather that day.

“Come get your picture made in front of the Castle before it’s gone,” Hill said. “We don’t have an exact date” for demolition.

However, Hill said the wooden structure built in 1992 likely will be demolished the week after Christmas or the first week of January, before students return to school on Jan. 8. The new playground, to be designed by Play by Design and constructed during a community build March 5-10, will use composite material she said should withstand the elements better than the wooden structure has, although the current structure, with some repairs, has outlasted its expected 25-year life span.

Plans to replace the playground started in earnest back in 2015 but were waylaid by budget and fundraising issues. Fundraising efforts reached the level needed to plan construction earlier this year.


School officials, including Principal Stacy Edwards, and the PTO spend much of last Thursday with the design firm. Although the project has reached the fundraising level to move forward with the build, Hill said fundraising is ongoing and organizers hope that more money will be donated.

Hill said the PTO would like to expand the smooth surface already planned for paths around the playground structures to a much wider area, making access for those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues easier. Right now, the area around the paths is to be covered in mulch, but she said making a wider, smooth-surface area would increase accessibility.

In addition, the project organizers are still seeking a community partner to help with the project, much like the Civitan Club and Oakwood Markets did in 1992. She said Eastman Credit Union, the Lion’s Club and families have stepped up with financial support, but Hill hopes a community partner or partners will step up to help bring the project home.


The whole point, Hill said, is that the Castle playground is not just Johnson’s playground but is used by a much wider community that goes beyond Kingsport’s borders. According to information from the city, the Castle facility at Johnson is the second-most-used playground in the Model City, behind Darrell’s Dream Boundless Playground at Warriors Path State Park. 

As for individuals as well as groups and businesses, the website has information about how to volunteer money, time and tools to the project. Of course, skilled trades folks will be needed for the actual build, but those without extensive construction knowledge also will be in demand to help with building, serving food and other tasks.

Three shifts will work each day: the first shift from 8 a.m. to noon with lunch provided; second shift from 12:30 p.m. to 430 p.m. with dinner provided; and third shift from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Volunteers must be at least 14 to serve meals and at least 18 to participate in the build.

Those without carpentry or building skills, abilities or time can donate the use of tools needed for the construction, food for workers and money.

The project early on sold fence pickets that were to have the names of individuals, families or businesses that contributed a minimum amount of money. That fundraiser has ended. However, after discussions with the design firm Hill said that window of opportunity might be reopened soon as the countdown toward the spring build begins.