Fundraiser will give Crestview student in wheelchair access to same recess fun as his friendsJan 03, 2022 02:51PM ● By Heather Lawrence
The pebble-based playground at Crestview Elementary is impossible for a wheelchair to navigate, but an ADA-friendly playground just isn’t in the budget for Granite School District, which administers 60 elementary schools. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)
Crestview Elementary in Holladay is set on a hilly campus with a beautiful view of Mt. Olympus. The community is great, but at 60 years old, the building is showing its age— especially the playground.
Chelsy Johnson is part of the Crestview community, and she’s leading the effort to rebuild the playground. Johnson’s own kids will benefit—three of them are at Crestview right now. But the new playground is really about her son’s friend, Mike Suarez, a fourth grader who often spends recess on the sidelines.
“We love Mike so much—everyone at the school does. We want him to be able to have as much fun on the playground as his friends do,” Johnson said.
The exclusion isn’t the fault of the kids—it’s the fault of the playground. Mike uses a wheelchair, and the playground is not wheelchair accessible. Mike’s mom Amber Suarez saw this challenge play out during school a few months ago.
“I was inside the school for a meeting and recess time came. I watched through the window at kids playing, and there was Mike, in his wheelchair, sitting on the sidelines. He was watching his friends play, but was unable to join in,” Suarez said in a news interview Dec. 1.
Suarez continued her feelings in a Facebook post. "Until you've seen your child sit on the sidelines and watch other kids play, year after year, because he can't join them, you don't know the heartbreak."
Johnson had also noticed Mike on the sidelines. She’d thought for a long time about how to help him. She knew that an ADA compliant playground was the answer.
Johnson worked with other parents and organized a committee. They looked into costs and had plans drawn up. They invited Suarez to see what they were working on.
“When I showed Amber the work we’d already done, she was in tears. She didn’t realize what had been going on. She didn’t know that other parents at the school knew Mike and cared enough to get this done,” Johnson said.
The price tag for a new playground came in at over $400,000. That bid includes the right kind of groundcover. Right now the playground’s base is pebbles, which a wheelchair can’t navigate.
So with all the leg work done, the next step seemed simple—hand it over to the school and get it built. Mike has a right to an accessible playground under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, right?
But when the committee approached Granite School District, they were told that while they support the idea, they couldn’t pay for it.
Ben Horsley, spokesperson for GSD, said that it raises the obvious question: Why doesn’t the district pay for a new playground? But construction costs, taxes and school needs are all part of the equation.
“We’re in a tough situation. We have some of the oldest school buildings in Utah. And [building] costs have skyrocketed,” Horsley said.
There are 60 elementary schools in the district. Most of the schools were built before 2008 and 2012 when updates to the ADA laws made an accessible playground a requirement.
Nate Crippes is the Public Affairs Supervising Attorney at the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City. Crippes is not involved directly with the project at Crestview, but has seen the story in local news. He says that from a legal standpoint the issue of who pays for the playground isn’t straightforward.
“The playground is fairly old, and there’s this idea that anything built prior to updates on ADA laws should be grandfathered in, and it doesn’t have to be accessible. But it’s a little more complicated than that,” Crippes said.
“There’s a legal term, ‘readily achievable.’ If the playground was built before the law covered it, if it’s readily achievable for the entity—in this case the school district—to make it compliant, then they need to do it.
“So is it something the district can do? Yes. But it sounds like they are saying that the cost is excessive, and so from their side it’s not readily achievable,” Crippes said.
Crestview opened in 1961. If the school were built any time after 2012 when the law was updated, or if the campus were renovated, Crippes said it would need to be in compliance.
“Legally it’s difficult to say that [the district has to pay for it] under the updated law,” Crippes said.
Horsley said GSD is in favor of the new playground and has approved the plans. But unless the committee can wait 10-15 years for the funds to be available from GSD, the only way to get it built is to raise the funds themselves.
“This committee is a very motivated group…who are very impassioned over this issue. I’ve seen some of these requests take several years...to plan. This one’s taken maybe two weeks,” Horsley said.
Johnson and her committee understand the district’s position, so instead of fighting with them over getting it paid for, they’re moving ahead with fundraisers.
“We started this process about three months ago and want to do it appropriately. We want to collaborate, so the district’s position is our official position,” Johnson said.
As Johnson contacted companies telling them about her plan, she said many of them discounted their prices or donated shipping or installation costs in an effort to make the goal more attainable. The price has come down more than $100,000 because of these discounts, but $300,000 is still a big price tag.
“It’s not just Mike who will benefit from a new playground. We were here recently on a Sunday afternoon—this is a neighborhood playground. We saw a huge gaping hole in the equipment. The pebbles are choking hazards and kick up a lot of dust. A new playground will help everyone,” Johnson said.
Johnsons’ committee set up a website, www.crestviewplaygroundproject.com. They got 501(c)(3) tax deductible status. They’re offering incentives like personalized bricks and plaques for donors. And they’ve involved new Crestview principal Andrea Winn.
“I am so grateful to work in such a supportive and inclusive school and community who will go the extra mile to ensure that good things happen for their children,” Winn wrote in a letter on the committee’s website.
Winn also noted that some of the equipment, like a slide with duct tape, is in the process of being repaired.
The best way to donate to Crestview’s playground project is to go to the school in person, or send a check directly to them at 2100 E. Lincoln Lane, Holladay, UT 84124.
There is also a GoFundMe set up by one of Suarez’s friends, Karina Perez, under Crestview Playground Project.
“The GoFundMe is a great way to contribute, but they do take a percentage of what we raise, so if people can donate directly to the school, that’s better,” Johnson said.
One donor is Mike’s fourth-grade teacher, Emma Boormann. Boormann commented on GoFundMe that “Mike is a ray of sunshine in our classroom. I want him and his classmates to be able to laugh, grow, play, and learn together! Students of all abilities will be able to play together at Crestview for years to come!!”
Suarez is still overwhelmed by the fact that other parents are looking out for her son. She’s been happy to let Mike be interviewed to give a face to the project. But with Mike in fourth grade, time is of the essence for him to benefit from the funds being raised in his name.
“His childhood is rapidly passing by as he misses out on these moments with his friends,” Suarez said.