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What's Happening with the North Playground?

Q: What is happening on the north side of Sabin School?

A: Sabin School is renovating the play area on the north side of the campus to create a natural playground and outdoor classroom. Using native plants, rolling berms, boulders and logs, and lots of accessible paths, these playscapes are designed with the intent of bringing visitors back to nature and offering a wide range of open-ended, imaginative play options. Created by Michelle Mathis of Learning Landscapes who designed Westmoreland Park, this is the first natural playground created in the Portland Public School district.

Q: Who is managing the project?

A: The Sabin PTA has a campus committee of parent volunteers led by Deborah Pleva and Carol (Senna) Gardner who are overseeing the project. With the guidance of Portland Public School Facilities, committee members have researched playgrounds, led fundraising campaigns, applied for grants, hired the playground designer, met and shared ideas with teachers and community members, designed the outdoor classroom, shepherded the project through the city permitting process, recruited volunteers for work parties, and hired and managed the contractors. They have dedicated countless volunteer hours over the past year and a half to the renovation project.

Q: Who is funding the project?

A: The entire Sabin community has come together to create this one-of-a-kind playground! The effort started with a special appeal at the Sabin School Auction in April 2014. Approximately 115 auction attendees raised $39,500 that evening. The campus committee organized a second fundraising campaign which raised $31,000 including a donation from the Sabin Community Association. The project has been awarded $14,500 in grants: $10,000 from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and $4,500 from Lowes. Portland Public Schools is contributing $20,000 to the project. The construction firm Green Hammer, owned by a Sabin parent, is providing in-kind and discounted services to oversee the construction of the outdoor classroom. The landscaping contractor Stormwater Resource Group has also provided discounts and donated materials.

Q: Why wasn’t the renovation done over the summer?

A: The committee had intended to launch and complete project over the summer; however, the city of Portland’s permitting process caused unexpected delays in the launch. (The facilities team at PPS confirmed that many of school projects experienced similar unexpected delays.) Additionally, the bond work at the school also caused delays and complications with the timing. However, the major earthwork was completed before school began.

Q: When will the project be finished?

A: The goal is to finish the project and provide Sabin community members access to the new space as soon as possible without disrupting students’ instructional time at school. There are two phases to complete the project. The first is to build the outdoor classroom and finish the earthwork and pathways by beginning of October. The second phase includes installing artificial turf fall surface, a log and boulder climber and a slide. The timing on the second phase depends on a number of factors: the availability of construction crew, the level of noise generated on the construction site, number of in-service days, the weather, etc. The school administration and PTA will communicate the schedule on the Sabin PTA page as it is determined.

Q: Will the work on the playground be disruptive to the classes in the portables or main building?

A: Sabin Principal Dauch and PTA members along with representatives from PPS facilities met to discuss the best way to proceed with the remaining work to complete the project. The goal is to minimize the impact on instructional time by limiting the level of noise and spreading of dust and dirt. Thankfully, the crews have already completed the nosiest, dustiest, dirtiest parts of the renovation! The PTA agreed to pay crews overtime to work on weekends, in-service days, and after 3:00 to complete the noisiest of tasks, but there will be some noise generated from the construction site during school hours. Our goal is to work together with Mr. Dauch and the teachers to consider the cost of the project (more overtime = less money for the actual playground) while providing quality instruction time for Sabin students. If teachers/students find the noise too disruptive, the teacher can notify the principal and he can evaluate the situation and ask the crew to stop working. The hope is that teachers and students can endure a few weeks of construction noise to get the play area finished. Then we can all start enjoying it!

Q: Why are there big holes around the portables?

A: The campus committee hosted a Depave event to transform the areas between the portables from pavement to green spaces. Replacing concrete and asphalt with rain gardens and bioswales filled with native plantings greatly improves the drainage of rain water and makes our campus more beautiful. The committee is planning a Sabin School Planting Day on Sunday, September 27, to fill these holes. Stay tuned for more details!

Q: What can I do to help support the project?

A: Join the campus committee! We are always looking for volunteers to coordinate work parties, assist the construction crews, publicize events, transport materials, etc. Let Deborah Pleva ( know if you’re interested in dedicating a few hours to the project. Once we complete the construction, we plan to work on the mural, add some willow huts, install some games, add educational signage, etc., so donations are always welcome! Also, we’ll need lots of green thumbs for the Sabin School Planting Day on Sunday, September 27.

Q: What else does the Campus Committee do?

A: Thanks to a $16,000 grant from Nike, the committee has hired Pacific Sports Turf to improve the grass field on south side of campus. The goal is to make the field a safer surface for students to run and play on at recess and after school. The fully funded field renovation project will be done over three years. Every November, Pacific Sports Turf will work on a third of the field aerating, seeding, leveling and filling. Each spring they will return to prepare the field for heavy use in late spring, summer and fall. Year two will begin in November 2015. We have also organized campus cleanup events. This August our volunteers cleaned and painted the west retaining wall, widened the pathway on the south playground to make it ADA accessible, and weeded the edible garden, native garden, and beds surrounding the school. The volunteers assisted more than 20 Sabin teachers and staff members prepare their classrooms (and library). We thank University of Portland and Lewis & Clark for the help!

Q: How can I get more information?

A: Look for updates in several places: on the Sabin Parents Facebook Page, on the Sabin Community Association Facebook pages, in the Sabin Community Association newsletter, and on You can also reach out to Deborah at for more information.

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