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North Playground Opens!

Did you miss the North Playground "vine-cutting", or do you want to relive it? Here is Deb Pleva and Carol Senna's marvelous speech leading up to the official opening of the North Playground, recognizing all the people the contributed so much time and energy to this project.

Photos courtesy of Doug Farr.

Thank you all so much for coming to celebrate the completion of the first natural playscape in Portland Public Schools, the Sabin Nature Playground. My name is Deborah Pleva with the Sabin PTA. My title here is Svatik and Zuza’s mom. I’m so glad to see all of these kiddos here. We have one more task to complete our playground. Can you kids help with that? My partner on this project Carol Senna Gardner a.k.a. Shae’s mom will tell you about your assignment.

There is a sweet member of the Sabin community that isn’t here to celebrate with us today, but he is present in the hearts that he touched. We are dedicating a tree with a as a memorial to first-grader Miles Kreefer who passed away in the summer of 2014. In honor of Miles and of this special place, we would like to turn this tree into a Wishing Tree.

So we’d love all of the kids to head over to the Willow Huts to write a wish on a ribbon that we will tie onto Miles’ tree after we cut the vine and open the play area. The wish could be for Miles… For a friend or family member... For the playground… For the school… For our community… For nature. It’s up to you. There is a group of girl scouts ready to help you all over by the willow huts.

This project started more than two years ago with funds raised from the Sabin auction special appeal. At the auction, co-chaired by Brooke Unwin and Carla Spencer, we played a short video where we asked Sabin kids what they wanted on the playground. Their responses? a zip line a waterfall and monkey bars with real monkeys. We played the adorable video at the auction, laughed about the monkeys, and proceeded to raise $35,000. Afterwards, we really asked ourselves, what do we want in our playground? And so began my two-year part time job, alongside Sabin parents Carol Senna Gardner and Ronnie Boicourt. Carol envisioned natural play elements, berms, an amphitheater, and landscaping. Ronnie had the passion, skills and time to help build an outdoor classroom. I told my daughter that we wouldn’t be able to build that waterfall she wanted, but we could create a place to reconnect with nature. She said, “Oh… So it’s a place we can build fairy houses?” I think the fairies must have heard us because from then on fairy magic has blessed this project every step of the way.

In the fall of 2015, we met Michelle Mathis of Learning Landscapes, who knows how to design playgrounds that are perfect for nature fairies and imaginative kids. In fact, we would like to crown her as queen of the nature fairies. We even have some fairy wings for her.

We toured other natural playgrounds like Westmoreland Park in SE Portland which showed us what could be possible with our space. The fundraising continued thanks to Gabrielle Baker who won Sabin a grant for $4500 from LOWES. We have wings here for Eric Smith.

The funds were to create an outdoor structure that would extend our garden education program.

In October, Kimber Dahlquist mentioned that an anonymous family wanted to contribute $15,000 to the playground project. That family is here today wearing extra-special, invisible fairy wings. To match this donation, fairy dust sprinkled across the Sabin community and brought in another $12,000. The Sabin Community Association pitched in to help fund the project. We have wings for board member Lauren Gross.

Meanwhile, Michelle facilitated workshops for families and teachers about the importance of nature play with the help of Sabin parent and landscape architect Lisa Goorjian-Duh. We became more inspired with every month. Luckily, a professional playground fairy that also happens to work for Portland Public Schools was assigned to our budding project, which was the first of its kind in PPS. Steve Effros promised to hold our hands and pledged $20,000 from the district. Come get your wings, Steve. In the spring, Suzanne Easton fluttered over from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, and gave us a grant for $10,000 to create beautiful bioswales and raingardens that would help reduce stormwater run-off and teach kids about water conservation.

Thanks to Sabin Parent Eli Levine for helping with that grant application.

Also in the spring, a Sabin family donated $9,000 to pay for the slide, boulder steps and log stairs. There are more invisible wings out there. Thanks to Columbia Cascade Company for the generous discount on that slide. With resources in place, Michelle unveiled the plans that centered around this beautiful outdoor classroom designed by Sabin mom and talented architect Leta Sterner. A Vernon parent and structural engineer, Jared Lewis, helped with the technical plans. And then mystical quest for permits began. We soon learned that fairy magic does NOT work in the City of Portland permit office. After a two-month delay, we finally broke ground in August. Actually, Stormwater Resource Group broke ground and the dust began to fly. Owners Ron Conant and Pete Wilson have donated time and materials throughout this project. They deserve double sets of supersonic, aerodynamic hummingbird wings for their ability to start and stop their work on a moment’s notice depending on permits and funding.

We also had incredible volunteer crews from University of Portland - 130 students - and Lewis & Clark College - 40 students - help us at the end of the summer.

The project required a LOT of dirt to create these beautiful berms for the natural amphitheater around the classroom and the embankment slide. Fortunately, Nike happened to be digging some big holes and building a few buildings. The fairies at Nike swooshed in and arranged to have dump trucks full of soil delivered, saving us about $7,000. Here are wings for Julia Brim-Edwards. Sabin Parent Matt Wilson worked with Apex Labs to test the soil to be sure it was safe for our kids. Throughout the fall this magnificent structure rose from that dirt, thanks to corporate partner Green Hammer. Sabin parent Stephen Aiguier provided us with a stellar crew led by Mike Liggett and generous discounts on their services and with their vendors including Parr Lumber, Eastside Steel, Sustainable NW Wood, Great Northwest Gutters, and Portland Rock and Landscape Supply. We have wings for Stephen.

We also want to give a shout out Mike Suri of Suri Iron who helped create our milepost marker and lent Ronnie equipment, his truck and trailer on multiple occasions to help build the structure and transport materials. Also the team at Bardy Trophy has supported the playground effort with discounts on the milepost markers and the memorial to Miles. Some people are in constant service to nature’s magical fairies. The green-hearted team from Depave showed 100 Sabin community members how to kick some asphalt in late August. With their expertise and support, we hauled away more than 2000 square feet of concrete and turned pavement into paradise. We have wings for Eric Rosewall and Meghan Scanlon. While Green Hammer, Ronnie Boicourt and other Sabin parents finished building the outdoor classroom, Carol created detailed plans to plant the newly depaved areas. The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District grant paid for $4000 of plants and trees and we received beautiful pavers from Mutual Materials. More than 100 Sabin community members of all ages pulled on their fairy wings for a planting day to dig deep to beautify our campus. That was a magical day. Later in the fall, when we struggled to complete our ADA pathways in the garden, Whole Foods Market reached out and offered 100% of the proceeds from their Thanksgiving fundraiser to benefit the Sabin Garden. I have wings here for Diana McCarley. The gorgeous logs in the climbing structure and around the slide came from Urban Forestry and from Gilbert Shibley, grandfather of a Sabin student, who donated the logs from his beautiful property in Estacada. I don’t know if these wings will get you back to Estacada, but here they are. As we approached our final stages of major construction, with a crew on deck to build the climbing structure and install the slide, and Stormwater Resource Group ready to excavate for the big bioswale at the top of the stairs, we had some unexpected shifts in funding.

More fairies came to the rescue and we did not have to postpone our work: six families each pledged $1,000. And one delivered a check for $4,000 on Christmas day. We’re sending lots more invisible wings out there!

This brings us to today… I believe if any one of those magic fairy moments hadn't happened, this day would not have come!

A big thank you Jen Lew, Felice Belfiore, Nancy Strening, Ken Rumbaugh, Kimber Dahlquist, Becky Shibley, and Heather Grossmann, who served as the glitter glue that held this project together when we were running dangerously low on pixie dust.

We’re excited to see our beloved garden educator and willow hut weaver, Julian Dominic, use the space to extend our garden education program.

The powerful worker bees like Peter Drake, Mike Means, Odie Miller, Matt Armstrong, Conor Divine, Michele Stone, Stephen Aiguier, Karen Steer, Stephen Larkin and Matt Whitman took on some heavy-duty projects. We are so grateful for your strength, skills and tools, as well as your pick-up trucks and trailers.

Ronnie-of-all-trades has the longest honey-do list in the neighborhood with Carol and I always making requests. He always delivers with a smile and wearing a hard hat.

And Carol, your vision and tireless commitment nurtured this project from seed to bloom.

Deb, your ability to energize and engage the community has been astounding. We thank you for your extreme leadership and perseverance.

Deb speaks. Every time we encountered an obstacle, we overcame it thanks to you all. Perhaps it was fairies or just the magic of this incredible community. So let’s get the kids back over here for the vine cutting. We thank you all for helping us create the Sabin Nature Playground. Let’s count down from three and Shae and Svatik will cut the vine. 3 - 2 - 1… Snip!

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