When the Vaughn Elementary School PTA board wanted to find a way to get a new playground system installed for the students, Lisa (Dervaes) Mills volunteered to chair the playground committee. Mills and her husband, Matthew, were students at the school in the mid-1970s, and both had great-great grandparents who settled on the Key Peninsula. The couple’s two children are now Vaughn students.

Parents Tina Self and Lisa Mills (middle left to right) pose with their children, fifth-grader Kelson Mills (back), fourth-grader Josie Self (front left) and third-grader MacKenzie Mills on the same slide they played on as kids at Vaughn Elementary School. The new playground will be placed in the grassy area seen behind the slide, near the same area where the old school building sat. For “old times’ sake, ”the kids are wearing shirts from their parents’ era when the school’s mascot was “The Vaughn Varmints.” Photo courtesy Mindi LaRose

A teacher in the Port Orchard school system, Mills is keenly aware of the differences in the playgrounds at Vaughn, and some of the other schools. “We felt there was a real lack,” she says. “We’re trying hard to get a good playground system in. The kids sure deserve it.”

Joining Mills in this effort is PTA board Treasurer Tina (Selfors) Self. She was also a Vaughn Elementary student in the ’70s, a few years after Mills. Self’s daughter is a fourth-grader at Vaughn, and her son, a Vaughn graduate, is now in sixth grade at Key Peninsula Middle School.

Mills and Self first set out to discover what kind of playground the children would choose for themselves. In May 2006, they posted big sheets of paper at the school and encouraged students to draw what they wanted; they talked with kids and got teacher input. Then they shopped for a “green” playground that was environmentally-friendly and met state standards for wheelchair access.

“(The new system) is 100 percent U.S. made of recycled steel and structural plastic, and the wood chips to be used are also recycled,” Self says.

The playground area will include benches and tables for socializing, paths, and places for visitors of all ages to relax and enjoy the outdoors. The anticipated price tag is between $50,000 and $60,000. As soon as the school district completes required drainage, playground construction for Phase I can begin.

So far, the committee has raised about $28,000. Last May, they held the first Vaughn Elementary PTA auction, their primary fundraiser. They will hold another one this May, and hope Vaughn Elementary parents and the entire community will participate, turning a grand playground desire into a delightful reality.

Self sent out a request for donations to 2,100 businesses in the Key Peninsula/Gig Harbor community “on Dec. 14, the day of the storm,” with scant response. Still, she is determined to find a way to build the entire playground system. With no grant or matching funds, the committee is reliant upon the goodwill and commitment of the community to help build it. Her donation letter read, in part, “A letter of gratitude listing everyone who donated will be sent to the Vaughn student body.  We want to make sure people who donate are recognized for their generosity and involvement in their community.” Additionally, for several levels of giving (beginning at $100), a plaque will be engraved with the donor’s name and mounted in the general playground area.

The new playground may or may not be fully complete before Self’s daughter leaves the school after fifth grade. “I’ve got a two-year term (as treasurer),” she says, “This (playground system) is something I’m going to be involved with until it’s completed.”

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