Hillcrest PTO raising money, partnering with KU class to build shade pavilion at accessible playground

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Hillcrest Elementary School parents and teachers are fundraising to install a shade structure over the picnic table area at their school’s accessible playground, and they’re asking for community donations.

The Hillcrest Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) is raising funds for some “much-needed” shade at the Ryan Gray Playground for ALL Children, according to a news release.

Though the fully accessible park is meant to serve everyone, it doesn’t have sufficient shade for the community to benefit from it throughout changing weather, Hillcrest PTO President Sabrina Kuksi said.

“The Ryan Gray Playground is a true gem of the Lawrence community,” Kuksi said in the release. “Throughout much of the year, it’s bustling during the day, in the evenings, and on weekends. But the lack of shade severely limits its use during certain times of the year. Community support for this effort will greatly increase accessibility and clear the way for the community to enjoy the playground year-round.”

First opened in 1993, the playground commemorates the late Ryan Gray, a former Hillcrest student. Gray was born with an inoperable brain tumor and used a wheelchair from sixth grade on. He died at age 17 in 1990. Gray had represented inspiration — a “good luck charm of sorts” — for the 1988 KU men’s basketball national championship team. 

When the playground in 2016 underwent a $375,000 renovation, it was considered the first fully accessible playground in Kansas, according to the release.

Hillcrest is partnering with a University of Kansas architecture class that will gain hands-on experience designing and constructing the shade structure. Third-year architecture majors will use their experience with drawings, conceptual development, computational design and model making. Keith Van de Riet, associate professor of architecture at KU, is leading the project and said in the release that it will allow students to interact with their broader community — and contribute to it.

“Shade pavilions are the perfect project for our students,” Van de Riet said. “It’s an ideal blend of functional and aesthetic requirements. Additionally, students work with the community and learn how to manage a budget and construction timeline. I enjoy these projects because we’re working outside the classroom — and I find these studios to be very rewarding to teach.”

The class will work on the project during the upcoming fall semester, according to the release. An initial design phase is scheduled to be done in August, and students will gather feedback and make revisions in September. Students will then work to finalize their plan and obtain the necessary permits, and begin fabrication in October. 

Van de Riet said their goal is to break ground for the structure in November, with hopes of completing it by mid-December.

The Hillcrest PTO has so far raised approximately $9,000 — primarily through HalkWalk, its annual fundraising walkathon — for the shade project, according to the release. Estimates call for roughly $25,000 more, so members have set up a GoFundMe webpage to try to get closer to that goal.

Visit playground’s Facebook page to learn more about the project and its GoFundMe to donate.

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