Tacoma Public Schools (TPS), Trust for Public Land (TPL), and Metro Parks Tacoma (MPT) celebrate two community-driven playground renovations with groundbreaking events this month. Both Jennie Reed and Helen B. Stafford elementary schools will open revitalized parks to students and the entire community this fall, transforming flood-prone and asphalt-filled playgrounds into green play spaces for the whole neighborhood to use after school hours.
The groundbreaking event at Jennie Reed Elementary on Thursday, June 8, at noon (1802 S 36th St, Tacoma, WA 98418), will be open to the public and will feature speakers, including Jennie Reed Principal Abby Sloan, Trust for Public Land’s Sarneshea Evans, and Tacoma Park Board President Andrea Smith.
“By transforming Jennie Reed’s playground into a tree-filled park, our school is adding a community resource that will make our students and neighbors healthier,” said Abby Sloan, Jennie Reed Principal.
Built alongside Interstate 5, Jennie Reed Elementary’s students contend with loud traffic noise that makes it difficult to hear teachers and each other. Renovations will add trees to limit the noise and reduce stress, as well as replace outdated playground equipment.
“The schoolyard renovations at Jennie Reed Elementary and Helen B. Stafford Elementary add parks to neighborhoods that desperately need more space for people to gather and play,” said Sarneshea Evans, NW Parks for People Program Director for Trust for Public Land. “All people should have quality, close-to-home access to the outdoors within their communities.”
Design concepts for both spaces originated from workshops with the students attending each of the schools. Final designs were inspired by a series of pop-up events and conversations with neighbors who will benefit from the new parks during non-school hours. The updated schoolyards will include modern play structures, updated tracks and basketball courts, new irrigation systems, and ramps to improve accessibility. Both parks will be open to the public after school hours and on weekends, adding accessible green space where neighbors can exercise and decompress.
Renovations were made possible through community engagement, planning support, and funding from Trust for Public Land and Metro Parks Tacoma. The playgrounds are part of an effort by TPL and MPT to close Tacoma’s park access gap– the largest park access gap in Washington– by upgrading five schoolyards in the city. More than 65,000 people in Tacoma do not live within a 10-minute walk of a park.
The launch of the first five Community Schoolyards pilot locations will serve more than 25,000 people, increasing the percentage of Tacoma residents living within a 10-minute walk to a park from 69 percent to 75 percent. With the price of land rising in Tacoma, transforming existing schoolyards into community parks outside of school hours is a cost-effective and innovative solution, adding natural and public spaces to underserved communities. Additional funding was provided by Kaiser Permanente, the State of Washington, the Names Family Foundation, Boeing, Woodworth Family Foundation, and Bamford Foundation.
“We are so grateful for this partnership with Trust for Public Land and for the leadership of Tacoma Public Schools in helping us overcome the gap in park access in south Tacoma,” said Metro Parks Tacoma Board President Andrea Smith. “By placing community voices at the center of their design process, these Community Schoolyard transformations will improve the quality of life for school children and everyone in the neighborhood.”
Because Stafford Elementary was built on wetlands in the early 1900s, its current playground is prone to flooding throughout the year. Renovations will improve the park’s irrigation systems, making the full playground available in all seasons. Utilizing input from the community, the renovated park will also include amenities such as new treehouse-themed play structures, basketball courts, walking paths, and an amphitheater for outdoor classes.
“This project represents years of hard work and collaboration with students and neighbors to design spaces that meet the school and community needs,” said Elizabeth Bonbright, Tacoma Public Schools Board President. “It is very exciting to break ground. The updated parks will help students learn and create a space for community members year-round.”
“Kaiser Permanente believes good health includes healthy communities. An active park with accessible green space can help build both physical fitness and essential social connections,” said Dr. Sarah Haastrup, district medical director and family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Tacoma Medical Center. “We are pleased to support Tacoma Green Schoolyards as part of building a healthy southeast Tacoma community.”