Last Friday, the Snoqualmie Valley School District took a proactive stance regarding a large unfenced elementary school play field, a playground area that’s been at issue since December when a couple of parents started a campaign to fully enclose their children’s recess area.
For Wendy Sjostrom the crusade began before Winter Break, when her daughter came home from North Bend Elementary School (NBE) and told her she was scared at recess because the strangers were back.
Wendy called school and was told that the public uses the playground as a passage way to downtown North Bend, as the playground fence has an open pass-through to the Snoqualmie Valley Trail which also accesses neighborhoods opposite the trail and school.
Another issue is that part of the playground (where a play field is located) is unfenced and exposed to a city street. Parents report that sometimes the public uses this field area during recess hours, something they say is a student safety concern.
In April, first steps were taken when a gate was installed in the playground fence that before opened to the trail, which locks during school hours. Additionally, a fence opening from parking lot to the playground was closed off. Wendy says this has stopped the issue of strangers in the play equipment area during recess.
A large portion of the playground still remains unfenced, though. At first Wendy and and fellow parent activist, Chris Knight, were told that fencing this play field portion was not possible because it was North Bend city property. They later found out the land does belong to the school district, but contains a easement with the city.
Working with Wendy on the fencing project, the district estimated it will cost about $12,000 to fully enclose the playground; money it wasn’t sure it had in this year’s budget. As a solution, they suggested parents raise the fencing funds or possibly look to the PTA. The PTA, though, has limited funds and those are dedicated to supplementing school programming.
Chris Knight views the NBE fencing as an inequitable situation, saying the school’s playground fencing isn’t up to the same safety standards of the other four district elementary schools. Additionally, she points out that no other elementary school playground is as exposed as North Bend Elementary, which sits in the front of the school.
Add to this the current public safety issues occurring in North Bend, including increased drug use at neighboring Torguson Park (where used hypodermic needles are being found) as well as past issues at nearby North Bend Library, and Chris felt the district should fund and install the fence as soon as possible.
North Bend Elementary Principal, Jim Frazier, said via email that the fence is a good idea, but that his school is not in a student safety crisis situation. He explained that the fence will keep students in the play area, but won’t keep others from using the playground for inappropriate activities when school is not in session.
Currently, NBE staff inspect and “sweep” the playground each morning to ensure it is safe for students. Past items occasionally removed related to those “inappropriate activities” include broken glass, condoms and sporadically in past years, hypodermic needles.
Last week a petition began circulating the community to see if other parents agree on the urgent need for the fencing. Garnering over 160 signatures, the petition asked the district to allocate funds to fully fence the NBE playground, stating the [playground] “arrangement is unsafe and inadequate.”
Even if not a “crisis situation,” district officials agreed with parents and as a proactive measure will be fully enclosing the entire playground before the start of the 2013-14. In a school newsletter on Friday, May 31, 2013, it was announced that the school district will add funds for the fencing project to next year’s budget.
According to the newsletter, “Barring any unforeseen setbacks, we expect the fence to be installed as close as possible to the start of school this fall.”