We did it, Charlottesville!

On August 24, 2021, the playground at Walker Upper Elementary officially opened. Charlottesville City Schools students were there to cut the ribbon.

We were able to build a playground for Walker Upper Elementary because the Charlottesville community cared enough about our students to donate time, funding, and other resources. We’d like to recognize those who made this project possible. As you’re reading this list, remember that the project includes not only the playground but also the pathway that connects the lower parking lot that Walker shares with Crow Rec Center. The pathway and parking spaces in the lot were not up to current ADA regulations. In order to make the playground accessible to our community, we renovated the pathway and parking lot spaces, making it easier for more folks to access not just the new playground but also Crow Rec Center.

– Mrs. Grace Riggs gave an incredibly generous donation to the Walker playground after seeing a news story about the project. Mrs. Riggs, who passed away in 2019, donated to many Cville programs supporting children and young adults. Mrs. Riggs’ family hopes “her generous nature will be passed on.” Her daughter said, “My mom believed in helping those who were disadvantaged, especially children. She loved to read and had a passion for sharing that love.” It is with gratitude that we recognize Mrs. Riggs.

Charlottesville Area Community Foundation supported the Walker playground though an Enriching Communities grant. They also provided guidance on applying for other community grants, which we won. Thank you, CACF, for the many ways you invest in Cville!

– The Walker playground is supported in part by Community Health, a UVA Health grant intended to promote active living and a healthy and connected community. We appreciate UVA Health helping us provide opportunities for students to move their bodies + play with friends.

– The Walker playground site designs and surveying were done by Timmons Group. In addition to donating part of their services, the Timmons reps were responsive and kind, a joy to work with. Thanks, Timmons, for contributing to our community!

The Bama Works Fund provided one of the first grants to the Walker playground. We appreciate Bama Works’ belief in our project from the beginning and their support of Charlottesville kids.

– A big thanks to VMDO Architects for generously donating services to the Walker playground project. VMDO team members Shawn Mulligan, Kristen Hill, & Maria Bninksi provided guidance throughout and did an amazing job leading the live virtual sessions to engage community ideas.

– Shawn Mulligan also engaged volunteers from AIA Central Virginia to create initial designs for the playground site, providing inspiration about what we could build. Thank you, Shawn and AIA Central Virginia Emerging Professionals!

– It was important to us from the beginning that the Walker playground be accessible. SL Williamson donated – completely free! – their paving services to ensure community access to the playground – and the Crow Rec Center. Thank you, SL Williamson, for showing up for Cville kids. https://slwilliamson.com.

Lions Clubs of Virginia and Charlottesville Lions gave a generous grant to the Walker playground. The Lions support numerous community projects, including playgrounds across VA. We appreciate their support for opportunities for kids to grow strong through play!

– The Walker playground project was supported in part by a grant from Crutchfield, a Central VA business supporting Central VA communities. Thank you, Crutchfield!

Ting donated to the Walker playground project. Ting has given generously to support many local Cville initiatives, and we are grateful to be one of them!

Digs, Inc. is a locally-owned business that supported the Walker playground. Digs has been in charge of renovating the ADA parking spaces & pathway that connects the playground to the lower parking lot Walker shares w/ Crow Rec Center, to bring them into compliance. Thanks, Digs!

MTS Recreations, the vendor for the Walker playground equipment, was wonderful to work with. Our main MTS rep, Philip Smith, went above and beyond to help us plan for, order, and install the playground.

– We had a last-minute challenge with the Walker playground when the wrong part was sent for one of the equipment pieces. The scheduled ETA for correct part was October. We contacted Little Tikes, explained we needed the piece before school started, and they overnighted it to us!

City of Charlottesville, Va and Charlottesville City Schools both contributed funding to build the playground and ADA renovations. As Walker Principal Adam Hastings says, “Walker is the first place in Charlottesville in which we ask over 700 of our neighbors to get along.” An investment in Walker students is one that will benefit Cville for many years to come, and we are grateful to have the partnership of our City and Cville City Schools!

– Many Charlottesville individuals made financial contributions to the Walker playground. Thank you to each one of you. Thank you for believing in our children. Thank you for believing in the power of play to support their wellbeing.

Playground Construction to Begin in July

We’re ready to build a playground at Walker!!! With many thanks to Charlottesville City Schools and the City of Charlottesville for helping us meet our final fundraising challenge.

A Playground for Walker team member Christa Bennett was at Walker to welcome the delivery of the playground equipment. Philip Smith from MTS Recreations dropped it off in a safe location where it is being held until it is installed.

A few quotes from our online public survey and social media about how much a Walker playground means to our community:

  • “I would just like to say thank you for getting a playground for Walker. At recess I would mostly just walk around, feeling bored.”
  • “Play matters! Thanks for making a playground at Walker a reality!”
  • “I wish you did this when I was there.”
  • “This is a really important project. Thank you for doing it.”
  • “My daughter is a rising 5th grader. The playground has made her SO excited about heading to Walker. It really is about SO much more than a playground. It is about social emotional health at a time when our children truly need that kind of support after the year we’ve had.”

This investment by our community in Walker is incredibly important. Walker principal Dr. Adam Hastings likes to say, “Walker is the first place in Cville where we ask 700 of our neighbors to get along.” The percentage of Walker students who are of Black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian race or ethnicity is higher than the CCS citywide average. Walker also has a higher percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged.

The Walker playground is one of the most cost-effective tools we could possibly have for supporting students’ health + academic achievement (research shows more physical activity results in better academic outcomes!), annually providing at least 75 hours of service per student. This project started because in 2018, students at Walker identified a playground as one of the top things they wanted to make their school better. We are so glad and grateful our community listened and made it happen.

Playground Site Plan Nears Approval, Equipment Will Ship Soon

In January, A Playground for Walker submitted our site plans for review by the City. In March, the City requested (thankfully!) minimal changes to the plan. We incorporated those changes and re-submitted our plan on March 26. While the City has 45 days to review the changes, given how small they were, we anticipate we will have approval sooner. In addition to approval of the site plan, there are several required steps, such as purchasing nutrient credits to offset land disturbance, we are working with the City to complete.

In an update last autumn, we asked supporters to contact the City Engineer and Director of Public Works to ask that they provide assistance in mitigating the costs of requirements that had been added to our project due to City property not being up to current Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. We are glad to report that David Brown and Jack Dawson did provide subsequent assistance in advising on our site plans in order to limit the costs. Thank you, Mr. Brown and Mr. Dawson!

Our current challenge is securing a contractor for the project. The project is two-fold: 1) the playground, and 2) the ADA pathway that leads to the playground from the parking lot shared by Crow Rec Center and Walker. (You can read more here about the growth of the project from installing a playground to updating the pathway and parking lot.) The playground installation is being overseen by MTS Recreations. A separate contractor is needed to oversee the ADA pathway and the erosion and stormwater management aspects of the site plan.

A local nonprofit that coordinates pro-bono and reduced-rate construction services had given preliminary approval for helping A Playground for Walker with the ADA and erosion and stormwater management. Last week, due to internal reasons, they let us know that they would not be able to assist. We are now talking directly with contractors and hope to move quickly on reviewing and accepting a bid.

The playground equipment has been manufactured and will be ready to ship to Charlottesville in May. It may be stored for a short period of time while we finalize City approval.

If you are a general contractor who would like to take on this project, please get in touch! We have funds remaining to cover the costs and get us swinging and climbing on the playground soon.

Christa Bennett spoke during public comment time at the April 5th City Council meeting to provide Council with an update on our project’s status. Watch the comment period here or read the remarks below.

“I’m happy to be able to share with the Council a positive update about the project to build a playground for Walker Upper Elementary School. As a reminder, back in 2018, all 6thgraders at Walker participated in design thinking sessions about what would make their school better. A playground was one of the top things they wanted, and we, parents and the community, wanted to make it happen for them.

The pandemic slowed us down a bit, but it didn’t stop us. In May of last year, we released an online survey to get input on whatkindof playground students and the community wanted. 429 Charlottesville residents took the survey; 360 of the respondents were students, and I think that’s pretty amazing. It was a great opportunity for our students to experience being part of decision-making in our City. I hope that our students do grow up with the expectation that they are part of decision-making, and these kind of opportunities reinforce that for them.

We then held two live community feedback sessions where we narrowed down what was wanted on the playground, and in November, all Walker students got to make the final vote on the playground equipment.

The second part of this project that I want to talk about is our work with the City to make the playground happen, and I’ll start with the ADA pathway to the playground. The school already has a ADA accessibility, but we also want the playground to be accessible to the community. When we went out to the site with the City, we surveyed the parking lot that is shared by Walker and Crow Rec Center and found that the handicap parking spaces are out of code, as is the ADA pathway that leads up to the school. Of course, that’s city property. So, A Playground for Walker is overseeing those accessibility points being upgraded. I should note that A Playground for Walker is funding all of this, thanks to the generous support of our community. 

I want to thank the City for your support. Todd Brown, Director of Parks & Rec, and Chris Gensic, Parks & Trails Planner, have been working with us since the beginning, then David Brown, Director of Public Works, and Jack Dawson, City Engineer, have moved us closer to the finish line. Frankly, the playground part has been fairly easy, but solving the ADA pathway has been very tricky, and it’s added a lot onto our budget. With that said, Mr. Brown and Mr. Dawson have advised us in ways that have helped us limit the cost, and we are really grateful to them. I also appreciate the Council for your support. I want to especially recognize Councilor Heather Hill, who has been a champion of the project and provided a lot of guidance along the way.

I also want to thank VMDO and Timmons Group who have provided in-kind support for the project. I hope that folks will support these businesses that are giving back to make Charlottesville stronger for our kids.

We submitted our site plan to the City earlier this year, and it looks like we are going to be receiving approval for that soon. We anticipate that the playground will be open to students and the community this summer. I hope you guys are as excited about this news as I and a bunch of fifth- and sixth-graders are!

Thanks so much for the chance to provide this update.”

Playground Site Plan Submitted to the City for Approval

On January 7, 2021, A Playground for Walker submitted our Site Plan application and Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Management Plan application to Charlottesville Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) for their review and, hopefully, approval.

NDS has 60 days to review the application. Then, we are given time to make any City-requested changes to the plan. Next, NDS has a further 45 days to review the updated plan. Once the application is approved, we can start building – if conducive with the school schedule at that time.

In addition to installing a playground, we are funding renovation of the ADA pathway that Walker shares with Crow Rec Center, making both more accessible to the community. We are talking with contractors about a discounted rate for updating the pathway. If your company is interested in being part of this community project, please email Christa at christa@communitywell.com.

As always, thank you, Charlottesville, for your support! And a special thanks to the City Engineer for advising us on the site plan over the last month. We appreciate the help from the City Engineer to design the plan, in particular the stormwater management, in the most efficient, including cost-effective, way.

Walker Students Vote on Their Playground

Walker Upper Elementary students have chosen the winning playground design! We are excited to be working with playground vendor MTS Recreations to bring this fun play equipment to Walker.

The winning design was one of two finalists created based on feedback from students/other community members through an online survey and two live sessions.

439 people took the online survey in May and June:
– 37% were Walker 6th graders
– 34% 5th graders
– 13% parents
– 4% other community members

One of the survey questions had students rank their favorite play activities. They are, in order:

We used the live feedback sessions, which were led by amazing volunteers from VMDO, to refine answers from the survey. For example, sliding is low on the list of favorite activities. However, when we asked students if they wanted no slides or one slide, they chose one slide.

Next steps: We are working with Timmons Group to create the final site survey and CAD (computer-aided design) that is required to apply for a building permit from Cville Neighborhood Development Services. Thank you to Timmons for donating part of their services!

Once we submit our application to NDS and the City Engineer, they have 60 days to review it. They then give us time to make any changes that they have identified. The city then has 45 days for a second review and deciding whether to issue the permit to build.

Finally, our building timeline will further depend on the school schedule at that time, ie whether students are in school and whether we can build when they are. We are confident that the playground will be built by the end of summer 2021, and it may be done sooner.

An issue that lengthened our timeline is that the ADA pathway from the lower parking lot that Walker shares with Crow Pool & Rec Center is out of code. A Playground for Walker agreed to fund and oversee its renovation to ensure that the playground is accessible to all.

Our agreeing to update the ADA pathway for the City put our project over 6,000 sq ft. The City told us that meant we are now responsible for designing and implementing a stormwater management system, despite the fact that if we were to build only the playground, we would not have to create and implement stormwater management, and despite the fact that the footprint of the updated ADA pathway will not be substantially different than what is already there. The stormwater management system is relatively expensive, adding about 20% onto our costs.

We asked if we could submit applications to build the two projects separately, the first as the ADA pathway and the second as the playground, which would mean we would not need to implement a stormwater management system. We spent several meetings talking with City folks about this possibility but the request was denied. The City Engineer acknowledged that if we had built the ADA pathway without telling the City that we were going to build a playground, as well, then we would not have been asked to implement a stormwater management system.

We were next told by the City Engineer that his office could help us design the stormwater management system, reducing the $15k-20k price tag. While we tried to follow the instructions required to secure that assistance from the City Engineeer, we were ultimately unsuccessful.

With financial contributions from the community, we have been able to move forward with sufficient funding to cover the additional project costs. However, if there are unexpected costs or volunteer labor falls through, we will have to do more fundraising.

City funding has been identified that could be used for the stormwater management, since it will benefit the City. If you would like to see the City route that funding to the playground, please consider emailing:

Thank you again to the Charlottesville community, including Cville Parks & Rec and Neighborhood Development Services, for your support in making a Walker playground a reality!

Register for Virtual Community Feedback Session

A Playground for Walker wants to hear from you! Click here to register for our final community feedback session.

Virtual community feedback session:
What do we want in a Walker playground?
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
6:00 – 7:00 pm

Students, parents, and other Charlottesville community members are invited to attend. Register by clicking here. If you are not able to attend the session, you can still make your voice heard by completing this survey. If you have any questions, contact christa@communitywell.com.

This community session is sponsored by Walker Buford United PTO and hosted by VMDO Architects.

Please spread the word!

Community feedback session Aug 2020

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A Playground for Walker is thankful for the community members and organizations who are making this project possible, including:

  • Walker principal Dr. Adam Hastings
  • Walker Buford United PTO
  • Wildrock
  • American Institute of Architects Central Virginia Emerging Professionals
  • VMDO
  • Timmons Group
  • Bama Works Fund
  • Charlottesville Area Community Foundation
  • UVA Health System
  • Charlottesville Parks & Recreation
  • Anonymous individual donors

Resources During the Pandemic

The Walker playground team wants folks visiting our website to know about resources that are available to you if you need help during this difficult time. Visit the Support Cville website for links to organizations providing assistance with everything from food to rent: https://www.supportcville.com/en/get-support. 

While we continue to work behind the scenes to progress the project, our hearts are heavy with the knowledge that many in our community are facing serious, immediate challenges to their wellbeing due to the pandemic. We are grateful for all of those who are offering mutual assistance and are individually supporting those efforts.

We look forward to Charlottesville upper elementary students having a playground where they can swing, run, climb, and more, when it is safe to return to schools and playgrounds. Now more than ever, we want to let our students know that they are loved and cared for, and their wellbeing is important to all of us.

Virtual Community Feedback Session

A Playground for Walker wants to hear from you!

Virtual community feedback session:
What do we want in a Walker playground?
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Message us for details to join the call or for other ways to participate if you are not able to join on June 2.

Students, parents, and other Charlottesville community members are invited to attend.

This community session is sponsored by Walker Buford United PTO and hosted by VMDO Architects.

Please spread the word!