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Staff and families of Frank Porter Graham Bilingüe in Carrboro are used to the playground flooding after heavy rain, but Hurricane Florence brought rising waters to a new level.
Now the school is asking the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education and the community to help restore the playground.
It sits in a low-lying, grassy field next to Morgan Creek. At least once a year, the water from the creek knocks down the chain-link fence around the perimeter of the playground.
Hurricane Florence left the playground looking like a river, with the top of the 9-foot-tall swing set breaking the surface.
After the flooding receded, it left behind dead fish and the question of what was in the water.
The school’s PTA has the ambitious goal of raising about $400,000 to renovate the playground — with new play structures, better drainage, an improved walking track and environmental work.
Parents and the school’s principal say it’s unrealistic that they’ll be able to raise that much by themselves. So PTA president Sara Faccidomo said parents are asking the school board to match at least $200,000 for the renovations — or to even give more if possible.
“We’re trying our best to fix, but we need help and we need support. … We’re not well-equipped to manage this magnitude of a project on our own,” Faccidomo said.
The PTA is asking the school board to hire an engineer to study the floodplain and Morgan Creek and to provide recommendations. For the past two years, the PTA has been developing a concept plan for the renovations and has done some fundraising.
In October, the PTA set up a GoFundMe page dedicated to the project. The fundraising goal for the first phase is $100,000, but so far only 8 percent of that has been raised.
FPG is a Title I school, and about 40 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch. The PTA already raises money to support the basic needs of the school’s families.
“We’re not complaining about that,” FPG principal Emily Bivins said. “We love the families in our school, and we love supporting whatever families’ needs are. But it doesn’t really feel fair when another PTA can raise money, they have a larger population of parents who have means to raise money and the cost of their playground renovation is going to be a third of what ours are because they’re not living in a floodplain.”
The students have not been able to use the playground for two months. After the hurricane, the Board of Education paid for the cost to repair the fence, power-wash the playground structures and set sand between the fence and the creek to create a buffer.
However, last week’s rain brought down five trees and damaged the fence again. Bivins said the playground likely won’t open until January. Until then, students will have recess in the courtyard or in an area of the parking lot.
Hurricane Florence submerged many Eastern North Carolina towns as it dragged across the state for about a week in September. Toward the tail-end of the storm, the Eno River in Durham County and creeks in Orange County swelled and spilled onto main roads, shopping centers, neighborhoods and school grounds.