Blue Ridge Elementary School got a visit from two state politicians Tuesday.
John Oxendine, Georgia's Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner, made the Evans school the first stop of his educational tour of state schools in honor of national Fire Prevention Month.
"One thing we do is we educate children because firemen don't like to have to get on the truck and have to go to a fire," Oxendine told the third-graders crowded into the cafeteria for his presentation. "They like it if we can prevent the fire in the first place."
Before deputizing each pupil as a junior fire marshal, Oxendine encouraged them to get their parents to create and practice a fire escape plan at home and to change the batteries in their smoke detectors at Halloween and Easter.
Oxendine was joined by state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, who announced that he has secured $15,000 in state funds for the planned playground upgrades at Blue Ridge. The new playground will be equipped so children with special needs can play alongside their classmates who don't have disabilities.
"We're committing to making this playground one of the best so that all kids can enjoy it," Harbin said. "It is a great cause."
Harbin and Oxendine led the third-graders in shouting the playground fundraising theme, "All Kids Want to Have Fun," for a video that will eventually be submitted for a $10,000 Goody's Good Deeds for Schools grant. The video is themed "Extreme Makeover: Playground Edition," after the ABC television show of a similar name.
"It is not just special needs," said Colleen Hodell, a paraprofessional for the school's special needs pre-K class and coordinator of the video.
Plans to upgrade the school's treated lumber playground feature wheelchair accessibility and playground equipment that will engage children mentally and physically. Part of the project's first phase - new swing sets and tire swings - has been completed.
"The project is not (just) for the school," Principal Jeff Collman said. "After school and on the weekends, anyone can use it."
Collman said all but $7,000 of the $74,000 needed for the rest of the first phase of the playground renovation has been secured through local and state funding and a $5,000 Lowe's Toolbox for Education grant.
The final project will include widened sidewalks and handicapped-accessible features such as a paint station, sandbox and roller slides designed not to short-circuit cochlear implants some hearing-impaired children might have.
Hodell said the final video grant application, which she hopes to complete by mid-November, will include testimonials from students about what they'd like for the playground, photos and possibly even the ABC show's tagline, "move that bus," when a toy bus will be moved, exposing a rendering of the playground.
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