WATERLOO — Orange Elementary School isn’t lacking for open, natural areas.
Along with playgrounds, the 20-acre site has plenty of space where children could interact with nature during recess. Unfortunately, some of that space nearest to the preschool and early elementary playground is inaccessible. An earthen berm and a stream separate the area from the rest of the school property.
“We had all this wonderful unused, unusable space,” said kindergarten teacher Janelle Kimpston.
But a $10,000 grant to the school, announced Wednesday, will help bridge that divide — literally. The Wellmark Foundation’s Community Kickstarter grant funds will be used to build a bridge. A nature “playscape” will be developed on the far side of the bridge.
It was an idea that Kimpston helped develop. “The playscape items will all be items made with or based around nature, so that the kids can get out there and explore nature and also be doing a lot of movement,” she said. One example of activities on the playscape is a giant tic-tac-toe board on which students would use items they find in nature.
“It specifically kind of targeted, I would say, 4- to 8-year-olds,” she said. “But I can see some of the older kids kind of enjoying that, as well.”
Kimpston and her sister, Juanita, a first-grade teacher at Fred Becker Elementary School, pledged $1,000 to the project. That is what remained of the memorial funds for their father, Keith Kimpston, who died three years ago. As a result, the project was dubbed Kimpston’s Crossing to Playscape.
However, their contribution wasn’t enough to pay for all of it. “We just weren’t sure how to go about funding it,” said Janelle Kimpston. Stacey Snyder, Orange’s expanded learning teacher, mentioned Wellmark’s Community Kickstarter program after hearing about the plan and wrote the grant proposal.
It became one of 79 proposed Iowa projects presented by the foundation that focused on making their communities more active or improving access to healthy foods. People could go online and vote as often as once every 24 hours during a two-week period for their favorite project. The 30 top vote-getters were awarded grants of $10,000 or less that collectively totaled $277,654.
“My parents were custodians in the Cedar Falls district,” said Kimpston, and they volunteered in Waterloo elementary schools after retiring. “So kids have always been really, really important to them. My dad is dancing the Irish jig in heaven, because this is something that he would be really proud of.”
Other Northeast Iowa projects that received grants included building a splash pad in Clarksville, expansion of the New Hampton TRIBE trail, the purchase of New Hampton school playground equipment, a storage and shelter building purchase for the Riceville farmer’s market, and pedestrian ramp improvements in West Union.