Tacoma Public Schools (TPS), Trust for Public Land (TPL), and Metro Parks Tacoma (MPT) will open two community-driven playgrounds with ribbon cutting events at Helen B. Stafford and Jennie Reed elementary schools.
Helen B. Stafford Elementary will celebrate its park opening on Wednesday, January 31 at 2 p.m., with an event led by their students. Jennie Reed Elementary will open its park in spring 2024.
The renovations at Helen B. Stafford and Jennie Reed are the first additions of a larger plan to revitalize five Tacoma schoolyards and add green spaces that improve community health.
Studies found that Tacoma has the largest park access gap of any major city in Washington, which spurred a collaboration between TPL, MPT and TPS to add parks for the communities that need them most. The new schoolyard parks will serve more than 25,000 people.
“The updated parks will help students learn and create a space for community members year-round,” said Elizabeth Bonbright, Tacoma Public Schools Board Member. “This exciting project represents years of hard work and collaboration with students and neighbors to design spaces that meet the school and community needs.”
Stafford Elementary was built on wetlands in the early 1900s, which caused its old playground to flood throughout the year. Improving the park’s irrigation systems will ensure the playground is available for use in all seasons. Utilizing input from the neighborhood, the renovated park also includes amenities such as new treehouse-themed play structures, basketball courts, walking paths, and an amphitheater for outdoor classes.
“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.”
Built alongside Interstate 5, Jennie Reed students contend with air pollution, loud traffic, and frequent flooding that makes the playground difficult to use in the fall and winter. Renovations added trees to limit the noise and reduce stress, replaced outdated playground equipment and improved water drainage.
“Adding trees to block noise from nearby I-5 will make it easier for students to hear teachers and each other during the school day,” said Abby Sloan, Jennie Reed Elementary Principal. “Our students live in the part of Tacoma with the highest concentration of concrete, so this new green space, track and playground will provide an accessible way for our kids and neighbors to exercise.”
Design concepts for both playgrounds 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, on weekends and during the summer, providing green space where neighbors can exercise and decompress. Community access will align with Metro Parks hours, except during school hours or school-related events.
“With help from Trust for Public Land, our community is coming together in creative ways to address park access gaps in south Tacoma,” said Metro Parks Tacoma Board President Andrea Smith. “It’s great seeing how much the students love these new play spaces and we’re excited the broader neighborhood will be able to benefit as well thanks to our partnership with Tacoma Public Schools and the many community funding partners who have shared in the vision to better serve our community.”
Improvements were made possible through community engagement, planning support, and funding from Trust for Public Land and Metro Parks Tacoma. Additional funding was provided by Kaiser Permanente, the State of Washington, the Names Family Foundation, Russell Family Foundation, Wyncote Foundation Northwest, Boeing, and Bamford Foundation as well as many generous business, foundations, and community members.
“In the South End, we’re pretty under-resourced as a whole without a lot of access to parks or recreation areas for our kids to play and families to enjoy,” said Annie Mosich, Helen B. Stafford Elementary Principal. “The Community Schoolyard supports our goals to be a hub for the community and neighborhood, making this a place people want to live and visit.”
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 communities who need them most.
“Kaiser Permanente believes good health includes healthy communities. We are grateful for the opportunity to support the Tacoma Green Schoolyards as part of building a healthy southeast Tacoma community,” said Dr. Sarah Haastrup, district medical director and family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Tacoma Medical Center. She added, “An active park with accessible green space can help build both physical fitness and essential social connections.”
With the opening of Helen B. Stafford Elementary and Jennie Reed Elementary’s renovated schoolyards, Trust for Public Land and partners are working to complete fundraising for Mann, Whitman, and Larchmont elementary schools.