Castle Playground rebuild under way

Rick Wagner • Mar 6, 2019 at 8:57 AM

KINGSPORT — Day one of the six-day community rebuild of The Castle Playground at Johnson Elementary School went well under blue skies, school and community volunteers said, despite temperatures that topped out in the mid-30s.

Principal Stacy Edwards said that the first 60 volunteers for the first shift Tuesday showed up at 8 a.m. and that by 8:15 the construction site was abuzz with activity, although he added that a group of core volunteers who worked last week set up things to make the first day go smoothly.

“The early group of volunteers did a tremendous amount of work last week,” Edwards said.

The iconic wooden structure known as The Castle, built in 1990, reached the end of its expected life and was demolished Dec. 21, 2018. The entire student body had photos, including drone footage, taken Dec.18.

“To me, the most amazing part has been how the efforts of Play By Design folks have got people plugged in and working,” Edwards said. “That and the amazing prework done by our volunteers.”

Nearby, Lee Archin of Play By Design, which put together the plans for the project, was looking at the architectural renderings of the new structure, which keeps the spirit of the original but uses some modern composite materials expected to weather the tests of time better than its all-wood predecessor. 

Edwards said that an informal event at 5 p.m. Sunday is to showcase the playground, although some surface work will not be completed. A formal ribbon cutting is tentatively set for March 22, he said.


“Everything today is going very well,” said site coordinator Jim Taylor. “We’ve got people from all walks of life.”

Those included retirees, school system employees, police officers and employees of local businesses.

“Today is getting things organized,” he said.

Jim Nash, chief student services officer, arguably had one of the muddiest jobs. He ran electric pumps that cleared postholes of water, which was in abundant supply because of the recent rain. His blue jeans were mostly mud-colored by mid-afternoon and seemed capable of standing on their own.

Over in another area, second grade teachers Carolyn Harris and Patti Fleenor were using a router to round corners on lumber being used in the build. Harris was a first grade teacher and Fleenor a teaching assistant during the 1990 community build.

All posts are to be set Monday, and then the concrete truck is to arrive around 9 a.m. Wednesday, Taylor said.

The project is funded by a campaign that has reached 69 percent of its $275,000 goal. Additional funds likely will be used to add more rubber-like, poured-in-place surfaces to the project, which will also use engineered wood fiber.


Edwards said the site is set up like any construction site. Four trailers hold materials and tools, including 40,000 screws that students in the K-5 school soaped for ease of use, The screws are stored on metal shelving with wooden surfaces loaned to the effort by the Dobyns-Bennett High School band. Tools coordinator Mike Collins keeps watch over the trailers and their contents.

A small outside station gives workers access to water and snacks, but a green tent (think the M*A*S*H television series) from the Army National Guard provides an indoor and heated area for lunch and dinner, while a similar tent without the side walls is where smaller parts of the project are assembled, It also provides a dry workspace in case rain comes as predicted by Friday.

Edwards said the goal is to have 65 volunteers per each of three shifts, which begin at 8 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., with work wrapping up at 8:30. Lunch and dinner are provided for the first two shifts.

Volunteers can sign up for one or multiple shifts, and the site can accommodate folks who haven’t signed up. Volunteers must sign a waiver and must be at least 14 to help with food or 18 to help with construction.