Students may notice a little extra bounce in their steps when they visit the playground at Rexford-Longfellow Elementary this year. The old wood chips have been removed, and new rubber chips have been installed.
“The idea to change from wood to rubber began a few years back,” explained Principal Kris Strauman. “We’ve had issues with weeds, rotting wood chips, and ground hornets. We have to add chips every year, and it’s not the best surface for kids. The wood chips freeze together in the winter, creating a very hard surface. We wanted to switch to rubber chips for safety’s sake, because we had kids falling and getting hurt on a regular basis.”
Strauman explained that last year’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) President Cara Baum was looking for a project that the PTO could help complete. Strauman brought a sample of the rubber chips to a PTO meeting, and discussed the benefits of making the switch. In May, Brenda Hoffman took over as PTO president, and members voted to give $10,000 to the project. PTO parents involved in the project included Baum, Hoffman, Virginia Ritchie, and Karlie Jaensch.
“After doing some research, we learned that we would need 84 tons of rubber chips to cover our very large playground area,” said Strauman. “One quote we received was $55,000 for the rubber only, no delivery included.”
After continuing to research options, Strauman found Rubber Safe Playgrounds, a business based out of Illinois. Building and Grounds Supervisor Steve Reinke measured every dimension of the playground and sent a map to the company, along with photos taken by Strauman. The company confirmed that 84 tons would be needed, and offered to deliver that amount for a total cost of $23,640.
“I went back and talked to the PTO about it, and they agreed to devote future fundraisers to this project. This year’s PTO fundraiser will help pay the balance,” said Strauman.
Once the rubber chip purchase agreement had been reached, Strauman learned that a special heavy-duty felt lining had to be installed after the old wood chips had been removed. New edging was also installed in conjunction with the project.
“On Aug. 8, the first delivery of the rubber chips arrived,” Strauman said. “That was a day or two earlier than what they had told us, so we weren’t quite ready, but Toby Kersten helped us out by hauling away the old wood chips. We had piles of old wood chips, along with all the old felt lining, and Toby helped haul it all away.”
The rubber chips came by the semi load, with four trucks dumping the chips at the playground. Marty Hartleben headed up the grounds crew that spread the rubber chips evenly over the playground. Assisting Hartleben were Tim Loberg, Craig Messner, and Reinke. Summer workers, who are also former students, also helped with the project. Those workers included Jesse Wiley, Colin Moon, Chase Kriewaldt, and Kevin Supanich.
Workers moved the rubber chips with wheelbarrows, the district’s motorized cart, and a small front-end loader. The rubber chips were spread evenly using rakes.
Strauman said the new rubber chips bring many advantages.
“These chips don’t attract bugs, weeds can’t grow in them, they never freeze, and they never disintegrate,” stated Strauman. “It’s also very bouncy and provides more cushion for students. I contacted 10 other school districts in Wisconsin who have switched to rubber chips, and 10 out of 10 said they wish they had done it many years ago. They reported that broken bone injuries went down to zero after the rubber chips had been installed.”
Strauman said the black rubber is not supposed to rub off on clothing or skin as students play on it, but asked parents not to send kids to school in new, light colored clothing until after a few good rains have washed any residue down beneath the surface.
After the new rubber chips were installed, Hoffman and several Rexford-Longfellow students, including the sixth grade Girl Scout Troop 2286, worked to repaint the games and other markings on the pavement adjacent to the playground. Those students included Myles Bartelt, Keagan Bartelt, Grace Bartelt, Riley Jaensch, Isaac Jaensch, Lucas Jaensch, Peyton Meyer, Logan Meyer, Keegan Meyer, Alyssa Ritchie, and Alexis Acevedo.
“It was lots of work to get it organized, and it took two days to complete the repainting project,” Hoffman explained. “But the kids had fun with it. It may not be a perfect masterpiece, but it was done by kids, for kids.”
Strauman praised the students for their hard work, and said she is looking forward to a fun and safe school year at the Rexford-Longfellow playground.