Climbing to New Heights at EMES Playground

July 29, 2021 / Andrea Wenger
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Students will climb to new heights — and build upper body strength — at Eastern Mennonite Elementary School this fall, thanks to student advocacy, parent contributions, faculty vision, area expertise, and volunteer hours.

A petition for monkey bars by the third grade class — delivered in spring 2021 to Maria Archer, K-8 principal — dovetailed with a need that Kendal Bauman, PE teacher, observed.

“I wanted to do some type of strength center for the students after seeing them knot random ropes and hang them from the trees around the tennis courts,” Bauman recalls of the planning stage last spring, where he gathered input from Principal Archer, teachers, and students.

Bauman has been a driving force the past three summers to develop the school’s nature-based outdoor space, which moved into its renovated building in December 2020. The project for summer 2021 was clear: build a climbing structure.

The total cost of just under $4,000 was covered by funds raised from the EMES Parent-Teacher Fellowship last year, and it took just over 120 hours to complete.

Originally, the plan was for monkey bars and climbing ropes. But Bauman got to thinking about an outdoor climbing wall and  reached out to Lester Zook (father of three EMS alumni) of Wild GUYde Adventures and the company Atomik Climbing Holds for consultation. Their input helped him solidify a plan. 

The addition is the newest section of the learning and play area, which includes outdoor classrooms for each grade, reclaimed tractor tires for climbing and riding, an outdoor kitchen complete with a “fire pit,” swings, a peace path with fort, and more.

“The playground structures have been really life-giving for me to create,” says Bauman, who coached EMS varsity boys soccer and taught middle and high school PE and health for more than 20 years at EMS before moving to the lower grades in 2019.

“I love EMES’ philosophy of teaching. I love seeing the creative play at recess. I am so grateful that our PTF is willing to fund these projects to make a unique outdoor space unlike any other school in the area using reclaimed materials, wood, stumps, wood chips, and natural areas.” (See a video about the addition here, and other articles about the playground construction over the years here.)

Bauman put approximately 115 hours into the project, with support from:

  • Chad Miller, who used heavy equipment from his employer Mast Landscapes (owned and operated by Andre Mast ‘82) to dig the holes gratis.
  • Zach Bauman ‘19, who volunteered labor
  • Aaron Horst, recent Eastern Mennonite University graduate and climbing enthusiast who planned the climbing holds
  • Kendal Wenger, EMU physical plant, who delivered stumps from from large trees they recently needed to fell.
  • Tyler Kauffman, EMS parent and facilities manager, who worked with Bauman to set the posts and assure components were level, in addition to consulting on various issues.

Check out some more photos from this story

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