Camp Creek Elementary School thought it had a new playground in place the summer before the 2018-19 school year, but parents, educators and students were ultimately disappointed.

The Camp Creek parent-teacher association partnered with the the school system to remove and replace an old play structure dedicated to its pre-K students, but the new one that was installed that summer was deemed inappropriate based on size specifications for the age of the toddlers playing on it.

“We had made these upgrades that were benefitting the K-through-5 students, and in doing so we removed an opportunity for our pre-K students, and we wanted to make sure they had the same access and opportunities as other students,” Camp Creek Principal Valerie Robinett said.

Last week, Camp Creek got an upgrade through a grant from Georgia United Credit Union’s School Crashers program. It turned a play space that used to be a chain-link fence enclosing a metal bench into a rubber mulch play area with two slides. The jungle gym fits safety specifications for its pre-K population and also accommodates special-needs students.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer an age-appropriate structure,” Robinett said. “They had equipment before but not necessarily a structure.”

The structure cost roughly $12,000 and the total amounted to roughly $15,000 after installation, according to representatives with Georgia United’s Business & Community Development Department.

The Georgia United Credit Union School Crashers program offers schools in Georgia the opportunity to apply for grants to go toward school facility. The ribbon cutting ceremony for Camp Creek’s jungle gym was presented on Aug. 14. Camp Creek was one of 10 Georgia schools that received improvements from the credit union’s community service program this year. The grant winners were narrowed down from a list of 300 applicants.

“They had a dream for equipment that was age-appropriate and safe,” Kim Wall, Director of Business and Community Development with Georgia United, said. “That school did a good job of telling their story. If you have several hundred schools applying for grants and the judges can tell there’s a need and we can step in and help, we want to do that.”

Eight elementary schools and two middle schools were selected. One school — Tony Elementary, a Title I school in Decatur — was awarded the largest grant that went toward upgrading multiple areas of the school. Camp Creek was one of five “mini Crash” grant winners. The improvements grant money can go toward are not limited to making recess better for kids. Some schools also received media center upgrades, a music room makeover or carpeting.

“This is not building a sports field or a gym, these are improvements not covered by SPLOST,” Wall said. “Those are things that have to be capital improvements. These are aesthetic things.”

Now, Camp Creek has roughly 20 pre-K students but the school accepts students as they turn 3 years old throughout the year. That total can increase to more than 40 students by year’s end.

Grant applications are submitted in March and finalists are narrowed down by judges with the Credit Union’s foundation in April. Grant award winners were announced in May.

Kelly Herndon Patterson, Executive Director of GCPS Foundation, worked with Camp Creek teachers and parents on finding money for the project. She said she cast a wide net when searching for donors or foundations that could provide assistance to the project. The opportunity ultimately stemmed from an exchange she had during a meeting with Georgia United representatives.

“It’s like anything else in life, it’s making contacts and building relationships so that you can trade projects,” Patterson said.

Camp Creek Pre-K teacher Lisa Dierdorff and parent Chris Giddens authored the grant application. Patterson said once she alerted them of the quick turnaround to apply for the School Crashers grant, the project required little oversight.

“As soon as I knew I said, ‘You need to take off and run with this,’ and they did a great job,” Patterson said.

Taylor Denman is a reporter born and raised in Gwinnett County. He came back home to seize the rare opportunity of telling stories about the county in which he grew up.