Ooltewah's Snow Hill Elementary wins playground fix-up contest

Ooltewah's Snow Hill Elementary wins playground fix-up contest

October 19th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Jason Walker, local radio host with Hits 96 WDOD, which carries the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning radio show, speaks to Snow Hill Elementary School students after the program gave the school a $10,000 Home Depot gift card to build a new playground at Snow Hill Elementary on Friday in Ooltewah. The school's current playground is unsafe, according to school officials, and was selected in a nationwide contest to win the playground makeover.

Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press.

Big Al Mack, co-host of the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning radio show, gives Snow Hill Elementary School a $10,000 Home Depot gift card to build a new playground at Snow Hill Elementary on Friday in Ooltewah. The school's current playground is unsafe, according to school officials, and was selected in a nationwide contest to win the playground makeover.

Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press.

Thousands of schools from across the nation entered the "Kidd Kraddick in the Morning" radio show contest to win Big Al's Recess Redo. Snow Hill Elementary in Ooltewah won.

The victory means the school will get $10,000 in Home Depot gift cards for new playground equipment.

"It is awesome," said Mary Neely, mother of 10-year-old Alex. Her son doesn't go out to the playground because he has brittle bone disease and easily could fall in one of the ditches in the recreation area, she said.

But when the playground is renovated, he will be among hundreds of Snow Hill students ready to try it out.

Neely said PTA President Rachel Barnes called to tell parents to be at the school Friday for an assembly to hear a motivational speaker.

But the moment Neely saw radio talk show host Big Al Mack from 96.5 FM, Hits 96, standing in the school cafeteria, she knew her school had won the Recess Redo contest.

"We narrowed it to five finalists, and Snow Hill Elementary was the winner," Mack said.

Students and teachers screamed and cried tears of joy and excitement when Mack made the announcement.

The playground has many problems.

The equipment is too large for the prekindergarten children to use. And because the playground has so many ditches, teachers are concerned about allowing children with disabilities to play there.

Erosion washes away the mulch put down around the equipment to cushion falls. Instead of soft bark or shavings, kids land on big hunks of rock. And the wood embedded to stop erosion is old and has become a hangout for ants and bees.

Some equipment, such as a jungle gym on the top level of the two-level playground, is forbidden to children because it's made of cracked and broken wood.

"These kids have been hurt constantly," said Mullins, while giving a tour of the area. "A playground is desperately needed."

Pre-kindergarten teacher Tiffany Sprague entered Snow Hill in the contest in September.

"My school is fantastic, but we are unable to use our playground for many days in a row because of safety hazards and fire ants," she wrote. "On our wooden play set, a bridge broke during play last year. This year we have no mulch on the ground, so pieces of concrete and rocks are exposed."

The school with the most votes on social media won. By October, students and teachers knew they were in the top five, but nobody heard anything else about it until Friday, Assistant Principal William Fain said.

PTA members are having a playground planning meeting today to organize the renovation.

School nurse Teresa Mullins said nobody is happier about the victory than she is.

She sees about 20 kids a day, and most visits are because of the playground, she said. Since school started in August, she's completed nine accident reports, all because of the playground.

"I've had busted heads from falling on rocks. I've had broken wrists, and that doesn't count all the hide I've had coming off knees that I've had to take care of," Mullins said. "It's been horrible."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6431.