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NEW TAMPA // PTA hopes fund-raisers play well

Play, psychologists say, is the work of childhood. And in tight-budget times, playground equipment is the work of the PTA.

Working hard at it are the parents at Tampa Palms Elementary School.

After raising more than $65,000 to put a roof over the school's outdoor concrete play court, the PTA is now raising funds for outdoor playground equipment for children through grade three, including those with special needs.

The aim is to have by the new school year some $25,000 worth of sliders, climbers, ladders, ramps and panels inter-connected in a multi-level, two-tone blue modular design.

One thing stands in their way: $15,000.

To help raise that kind of money, the PTA is hosting a Carnival Day on school grounds from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and a spaghetti dinner in May. Kim Wolff, head of the PTA design committee, made a bid for funds Tuesday before the Tampa Palms Owners Association. The group said it did not make donations but would support the drive with fund-raising ideas and contacts. Last week, Wolff went before the Tampa Palms Community Development District, which told her to report back after the PTA had explored other options.

Meanwhile, the PTA has raised about $10,000 through a holiday gift-wrapping drive, a Pennies for Playground campaign and other activities.

"It is a sad state of affairs when the PTA has to raise money for playground equipment," said Susan Depatie, vice president of administration for the PTA. "But I'd rather pay for playground equipment than salaries or books because then we'd really be in a sad state of affairs."

She wishes more people come forward on their own to donate.

"There's an image out there that Tampa Palms is an exclusively affluent community and we don't need anything in our school," she said. "Not everybody in here, though, I guarantee you, is living in high-income homes." Further, she said, "Our school doesn't get any more than any other school."

Each new public elementary school in Hillsborough County gets $5,200 worth of playground equipment, said Eric Stamets, supervisor for elementary physical education. The style is traditional: Recycled plastic balance beams, metal and plastic crawl-through tunnels and metal parallel bars, overhead ladders, push-up bars and rainbow climbers.

What you do not see are moving pieces of equipment, such as swing sets, merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters. These were banned, Stamets said, after consumer safety groups started to release data on childhood injuries related to playground equipment. Also gone are towering stand-alone slides. Today's slides, part of modular designs, "seldom exceed 3- to 4-feet above the ground," he said.

Schools that receive state and federal funds also must ensure that playground equipment is accessible. The system being considered in Tampa Palms allows children in wheelchairs to travel the ramps and turn around on play platforms.

To comply with School Board specifications, the playground will sit in 12 inches of sand in a 55- by 45-foot "protective area" bordered by beams stacked 11 inches high. Using the district's "basic ramping design," Wolff said, the Tampa Palms PTA agreed on options that include chime, maze and fire-truck activity panels; spider, curved and curved loop climbers; tube, twister and ski slides; and a bumper ladder.

The PTA signed on with the only outfit it could: Miracle Recreation Company, which holds the school district's bid for playground equipment.

Stamets estimates that of the district's 108 elementary schools, about 18 to 20 have modular playgrounds, mostly through PTA efforts. Only one _ Tampa Palms _ has an outdoor covered concrete play court that also can be used for school-wide assemblies. All elementary schools would have had them _ and the shelter they give from burning rays, rain and fire ants _ if the half-cent sales tax for education had passed last year, Stamets said.

As money remains tight, one thing appears certain, Wolff said: "There are more things the School Board is not able to fund, which gives the PTA more room to choose its projects."

_ If you have a story about New Tampa, call Linda Chion-Kenney at 226-3407.