A concept rendering of Anna Lingelbach Elementary’s playground with the planned School District resurfacing and upgrade (right) and the proposed new play structures (left). Courtesy of Friends of Lingelbach.

by Sam Newhouse

Students at Anna L. Lingelbach Elementary in Germantown haven’t seen much of each other lately – like students across the country, they’ve shifted to online classes due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But even during this crisis, Lingelbach’s staff, parents and supporters are hoping to make the school a more positive place for students with an ongoing fundraiser to spruce up the school’s playground area. So far, they have raised more than $40,000 – about 72 percent of their $56,000 goal – and hope that this funding, paired with a reported School District of Philadelphia renovation budget of $50,000, could radically reshape the outdoors area at Lingelbach for students and the entire community.

“It’s really important for us to meet this goal,” said Lingelbach principal Lisa Waddell.

Waddell noted that the fundraiser is intended to fund the installation of new play structures that aren’t part of the District’s existing plan, which involves resurfacing the schoolyard, installing a new AstroTurf playing field, a track, benches, trees and improving stormwater run-off.  “While in the end it leaves us with a well-designed space, it doesn’t necessarily give us all of the equipment we were hoping to have. That’s where the fundraising idea came in. If we could raise $56,000, that would allow us to add some play elements so it can be a place for children to play safely,” Waddell said.

A ‘Gem’

Waddell, Lingelbach’s principal for the past five years, said she considers the school’s outdoor area a “gem” that is at present vastly underutilized. Sitting at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Johnson Street near Lincoln Drive, Lingelbach’s land includes a sizable chunk of forest and the decaying, historic McIlhenny Mansion, which is fenced off. It doesn’t have play structures beyond basketball hoops and a wooden “GaGa Ball Pit” (a game known as the kinder, gentler dodgeball).

Waddell said that planned fundraising activities this spring have been called off due to COVID-19. But she still hopes the fundraiser can reach its goal by the end of June.

“Now when children are outside at recess or PE, there will be some constructive things for children to do. It calms down their energy. When you have play equipment and things that lend to creativity, it gives kids opportunities to engage with each other in meaningful play. You can shift the tide to hands-on and creative play,” she said.

Long-Hoped For Renovation

Leah Hood, the parent of an incoming kindergartener and of a student who just finished five years at Lingelbach, is working with the Friends of Lingelbach, which has led fundraising for this project. She said a renovated playground has long been an elusive dream for Lingelbach’s students and families.

“This project is going to really be a game changer for the students at our school. It’s going to transform our school day,” Hood said.

Lingelbach students started working on the plans for the new playground as part of a design-build project with Denver and Philly-based nonprofit The Big Sandbox a few years ago. Right now, the School District’s planned project represents a big upgrade, but the Friends of Lingelbach believe with the additional funding from their community and supporters, they can seek additional elements like a swing set and play structures for students to interact with.

Community Park

Hood and Waddell both said they hope their proposal could also make Lingelbach’s playground an asset for the entire neighborhood of Germantown and nearby Mt. Airy.

“We looked at a map and the closest park with playground equipment is Vernon Park, which is over a mile away,” Hood said.

“The vision for our schoolyard is that it becomes a community park. We see it as a place neighbors could use during evenings or on the weekend in the summer, as a place for families in the neighborhood to gather and connect together, because we really don’t have that in our neighborhood,” Hood said.

The playground fundraiser has been supported in the community by longtime Lingelbach supporters at Elfant Wissahickon Realtors, who previously worked on fundraising to upgrade the school’s library.

“With such massive problems and issues surrounding us right now, it’s great to have something positive and in our backyard to work on,” Jan LeSuer, a realtor at Elfant Wissahickon who is supporting the Friends of Lingelbach, said. “This playground is going to provide great joy to kids and will be really essential to our community.”

To learn more, visit “Friends of Lingelbach” on Facebook, and to donate, click here.