Noble Local Focus - Playground

Noble Local Focus - Playground
Posted on 10/05/2020

More than a playground

SES/SMS outdoor activity area provides students 

with countless opportunities for fun and learning

By Jeff Harrison

Communications Director

Noble Local School District

More than a playground.

While there’s no doubt that there’ll be plenty of climbing and swinging and noisemaking going on, the new $1.2 million renovation outside the halls of the Shenandoah Elementary/Middle School building will have a far-reaching impact for students for many years to come.

It all started with a vision by Candi Atkinson, who wears many hats connected to the Noble Local School District including Occupational Therapist for students in grades PreK through high school, President of the Shenandoah Elementary PTO and Scout Leader for Noble County Cub Scout Pack 514.

“Back in 2018, I was invited to come to the PTO meetings and asked what they could do to contribute to the playground,” she related. “They had been trying for several years to raise money to buy slides, especially on the PreK through first grade playground. 

“I did a needs and safety assessment of the grounds, the layout and the equipment and I looked at it as both a parent and an occupational therapist,” Atkinson continued, “and one thing that really hit home to me, particularly on the playground for the smaller children, is that we had a large population of children with physical abilities that weren’t able to interact with their peers in ways they should be. They couldn’t walk through the pea gravel or climb on the existing equipment and there were no adaptive swings for children with core or abdominal back muscle weakness, so that was all very disheartening.

“I also collected data from the school nurse as to what was our accident and injury information directly from the playground equipment being dilapidated,” she added. “Then I crunched the numbers and contacted several playground equipment companies, selected equipment that I thought would promote physical, emotional, social and sensory development in our students and came up with some peer-generated designs. We have several students in our special education program that have a lot of sensory needs and the playground is a great place to fulfill those.”

The benefits of exercise extend to all youngsters, of course.

“Studies I’ve read through various journals show that from two 20-minute sessions of physical exertion,” Atkinson related, “the chemical that is released helps with attention span and there’s a correlation between that and reading comprehension scores.”

Atkinson next made her presentation to the NLSD Board of Education in October of 2018, and it was a pretty easy sell.

“I went into a lot of detail and basically told them ‘we have to do something; what we have is unacceptable,” she recalled, “but Mr. Leffingwell basically told me on behalf of the board ‘you had us at hello.’

“I felt so passionate about it, not just as a parent but in my role as the school OT,” Atkinson continued, “and I wanted to see what I could do to make an impact.

 “I’m just glad I have a big mouth and wasn’t afraid to say what we needed,” she added.


The actual planning process began in October of 2019, with work beginning in April of 2020 and taking about five months to complete. SHP Leading Design (Cincinnati) handled the planning and design for the overall project with Josh Predovich as project manager and Ed Melvin as the landscape architect; Wolf Creek Contracting Co. (Marietta) did excavating; and the playground equipment and surfacing was installed by DWA Recreation, Inc. (Harrison, Ohio), with the total cost of the project at $1.2 million.

“This is not just a playground,” said NLSD Superintendent Dan Leffingwell. “It also includes multiple outside classroom areas and opportunities.

“Our hard surfaces have been expanded greatly and there’s a lot of room for our kids to exercise and play and be creative,” he continued, “and there are a number of spots where our teachers can take their students outside and do activities in outdoor classroom environments.

“It’s 100 percent accessible and inclusive, so our students with disabilities or who are otherwise handicapped can literally access the entire playground,” he added. 

Leffingwell pointed out that the biggest portion of the overall cost was in site preparation and improvement.

“Of the $1.2 million, over $750,000 was just in the site improvement, drainage and things that helped us create a larger, more usable space,” he said.

“It was a lot of money, yes,” said Leffingwell, “but the last playground was used for well over 40 years so if we can get that type of lifespan out of this with well over 1,100 kids a day having access, we think the per-student cost over a long period makes it very affordable and one we’ll get a great return on our investment.”


SES/SMS Principal Chad Miller reacted like a proud papa with this new “baby” located just outside his office window.

“When you think back to the work that went into the planning of this from Mrs. (Cindy) Van Scyoc (the previous SES Principal) and Candi Atkinson and their team before I came here last year, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “We had the old silver was not handicap accessible....we didn’t even have mulch - we had gravel underneath the equipment - and the drainage issues were pretty bad.

“Now, we’ve  got the rubberized surface which is much safer...the synthetic turf volleyball court...three basketball hoops...the beginning of our outdoor land lab trail...and an area we can use as an outdoor classroom that we hope to be able to expand in the future.”

Other features include three separate playground areas (PreK-1st grade, 2nd-4th grade and 5th-8th grade); an “imagination house”; several raised bed planters; a pavilion next to the volleyball court and several picnic benches located around the perimeter.

“Every kid - I don’t care if it’s kindergarten or eighth grade - when they go out those doors they’re running to do something,” said Miller. “It’s got a ‘wow’ factor, for sure, and just having all of that space is exciting.

“You can put this playground in any community and it would have the ‘wow’ factor,” he added.


In her role as the Cub Scout Leader, Atkinson was able to get those youngsters involved.

“The boys came up with a community project where they helped design and construct the benches (in coordination with the woodworking program at the Noble County Correctional Facility) that were around the tree which unfortunately had to be removed because it was hollow and dead on the inside,” she said. “The boys are now working with Mr. Miller to turn it into a STEM project and figure a way to refab them and work them into the new design. .

The Cub Scouts (with assistance from members of the Belle Valley American Legion, especially Jack Archer) were also responsible for building three raised planter beds that are part of the new layout.


The plan is for the playground to be open to the public in non-school hours as well.

“We want our campus to become a community park type of setting,” said Leffingwell. “We eventually look forward to expanding the nature trail that leads from the playground into the woods expanding all the way to our new farm.

“We certainly hope they will enjoy it and take care of it,” said Leffingwell. “It’s a nice place to go if you have younger kids while the older ones are at practice and it provides an opportunity to have family picnics.

“We now have 136 acres of farm and the campus which is just shy of 70 acres,” said Leffingwell, “so that’s a 200-plus acre complex that not only will serve our school but our entire community.”


They say “seeing is believing” and if you’ve seen the SES/SMS playground, you’ll be a believer and will no doubt agree with Atkinson’s one word description of a dream that has become a reality.

“Amazing,” she beamed. “I work part-time at Marietta Memorial Hospital, so I took pictures and showed them to my supervisors and to the pediatric therapy department there and they are absolutely amazed at what it looks like.

“Through my tears (of joy), it’s so rewarding to see all of the children interacting physically with their peers,” she said. “To see them playing on equipment that is ramped and no longer having to sit on a crooked, sideways leaning bench watching their classmates get to play is very special.

“We need to have a ceremony and name it ‘The Amazing Playground!’”