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Ricketts to visit playground: Northfield volunteers integral to summer-long improvements
August 13, 2015 Frank Marquez   

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Photos by Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen - Artists Bill Snocker and Mary Kinney touch up a mural on the ball wall at the Northfield Elementary playground on Saturday. Snocker also painted the bulldog on the high school’s gym floor. He also has done work on all the graphics and murals at the Scottsbluff YMCA.

Domino’s Pizza was lunch for more than 50 volunteers who spent last Saturday wrapping up the playground improvement project at Northfield Elementary, less than a week before a scheduled visit by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.

“We cannot tell you how much this means to us,” said Amy Seiler, who directed volunteers on some of the last remaining projects, which included arranging tree stumps as one of the playground’s centerpieces. “I talked to some neighbors in the area, and they are excited to see all that has been going on here. So, I think this is going to be great for the school, and this neighborhood.”

Seiler, whose own children Madison, Nathan and Peyton attend Northfield, is a member of the Northfield Booster Club. She also works for the Nebraska Forest Service, and has been a central figure in designing a landscape plan to help get the project going.

“The kids here have been raising money for three years,” Seiler said. Added to the booster fundraiser amount was $20 thousand dollars in grant money from the Sustainable School Yards grant (SSP) through the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, a funding arm of the Forest Service within the UNL system. “So, some of these kids who were involved early on won’t get to enjoy it, but other kids will. So, to them, it’s worth it.”

The SSP grant provides funding for schools to implement green infrastructure in their playgrounds, which teach kids about providing shade for energy efficiency, capturing and reusing rainwater for landscaping, and providing plants that clean our water and air.

With the remaining booster funds, the school plans to buy new playground equipment. According to Principal Betty Smith, the money is earmarked for fitness stations. “This is an amazing playground,” she said. “To Zac Karpf and everyone involved, praise to the moon and back. We are so blessed to have our booster club.”

One of the chief organizers, Karpf, also a booster and an executive at Platte Valley Companies in Scottsbluff, said he helped with the more complex task of working on grant applications, and with volunteers. “I can’t say how many hours we have spent working on this,” he said. “It’s neat to see different things come together. This has basically been my summer.”

Today is the first day of school. Smith said “the kids have taken such pride in the playground. They will be our leaders when it comes to showing other kids the playground. Tomorrow, on Aug. 14, Northfield Elementary Superintendent Bob Hastings and other school officials will welcome Gov. Ricketts to the new playground.

On Saturday, the more than 50 volunteers began arriving as early as 8 a.m. The volunteers were there to help with landscaping throughout the playground, including raking gravel, transporting mulch, setting stones for drainage, digging holes for various plants, and constructing key play areas including tree stumps and a rain garden.

Some of the same volunteers had been showing up every Saturday since the early part of June.

Seiler added: “The reason the Forest Service got involved was because we want children to be engaged in nature. Getting kids outside engaged in nature improves behavior, encourages curiosity, and provides exercise opportunities. The intent was for parts of the playground to be explored. Watching the insects and microbes decompose a tree stump, counting tree rings, searching for a praying mantis, observing how things grow this is what we are hoping parts of this playground project will provide. The nature areas of the playground project will provide a hands-on learning tool for teachers in a less formal environment. Benches, rocks and picnic tables were also provided for kids to gather or possibly read a book.”

Meanwhile, chief artist Bill Snocker and his assistant Mary Kinney were putting the final touches of a mural onto a wall, which kids will use for handball once school starts. On it appears the cartoon-style art of an oversized Brutus the bulldog, flanked by a girl, and a boy in blue-and-gold outfits. “I’m just touching it up right now,” Snocker said. “It took a week to design, and a week to paint. Originally, it was inspired by a Warner Brothers bulldog cartoon.”

Gering resident Sherry Preston with a tongue-in-cheek smile said in surveying all the work that had been done: “Back in our day, they put concrete on everything, and that was good enough for us.” A proud volunteer, she did so with a vested interest. Her children Lidia, Sarah, Thomas, and Zach Connot, have all been students at Northfield.

Mulch shovelers Jerry Ostdiek, former 4th-grade teacher Brenda Pszanka, and Jack Franklin volunteer on Saturday at Northfield Elementary to help out with some of the final stages of the playground improvement project.

Volunteer Mitch Moreveck hauls potted plants to select areas.
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