St. Ignatius playground

Seven-year-old Andrea Appelt shows the direction she’d like a new playground at St. Ignatius Elementary School to take. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana are partnering with a national organization, KaBOOM!, to make the playground a reality on June 25.

VINCE DEVLIN, Missoulian

ST. IGNATIUS – Asked to become playground designers this week, children at St. Ignatius Elementary School drew ones with slides and swings … and trampolines and roller coasters … and movie theaters and popcorn machines.

The playgrounds came in the shape of everything from castles to pirate ships.

Whichever of their ideas make the cut, more than 200 volunteers will make them a reality June 25, when the school will get a dazzling new playground in the space of just six hours.

Children in grades 3-5 got a new one a year ago. That one took 4 1/2 years to raise the money for and six days to build.

This one will be for kindergartners and first- and second-graders, courtesy of KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that likes to see kids stay active, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana.

It was a former longtime Blue Cross-Blue Shield employee, Vicki Albright who suggested the St. Ignatius school as the next project. The health insurance company had already partnered with KaBOOM! to build new playgrounds in East Helena in 2014, and Billings last year.

Albright has a grandson, Devon Bisson, who is a student here.

***

KaBOOM!, which has built or improved more than 16,000 playgrounds in the United States since it was founded in 1996, doesn’t roll in with a one-design-fits-all approach.

It lets parents and children – and school officials – have a say in what the new playground will contain and look like.

That brought senior project manager Kristin Karcsh to St. Ignatius on Monday to survey the site and talk to parents and students.

The children’s planning session, after school finished for the day, drew almost 50 energetic K-5 students who had all sorts of ideas they put down on paper.

First-grader Mason Parks drew a playground with a water slide, trampoline, roller coaster, swings and – maybe to keep everyone cooled off – a sprinkler running in the midst of it all.

Parks’ brother Rowan, a second-grader, had some of the same items, plus monkey bars, a sandbox and – maybe to keep everyone from feeling hungry – a vending machine.

Caramia Never Miss A Shot, an 8-year-old third-grader, may have curried favor for her castle-like design by depicting KaBOOM! flags flying from the castle’s turrets. Her drawing also contained a kitchen with fake food, furniture, play rooms and bedrooms.

As Karcsh filled the youngsters in on the process of building a playground and quizzed them on everything from what they like to play, to their favorite colors, 10-year-old Jack Rodeghiero had a question.

“Can you build it today so it’s ready tomorrow?” the fourth-grader asked.

When Karcsh explained the process to him, and asked if anyone knew how the actual construction would be finished in the space of six hours, Rodeghiero had an answer.

“Get about a million people there?” he guessed.

***

He was only off by 99,999,800 or so.

It will take 200 to 250 volunteers to construct the playground June 25. That’s where Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana comes in.

Well, in reality, the company comes in first with 90 percent of the funding for the $100,000-or-so project. But then it recruits and provides all the volunteers as well.

Many will come from one of the company’s provider partners, St. Luke Hospital in Ronan, BCBSMT senior director of public relations John Doran predicted.

“It’s so organized,” Doran said. “Every volunteer has a job to do. But in six hours, they’ll build an entire playground from scratch.”

Before that, KaBOOM! will come up with three designs for the community to pick from.

Two days before the June 25 build date, all the materials will be brought in and unloaded, wood cut and holes drilled for poles, so everything is ready to go when the volunteers arrive.

It will, Karcsh said, go from Monday’s blank-canvas stage to a “one-of-a-kind, custom playground.”

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