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Heading Outside to Help, Part Three: Eminence

Coover Regional Grantmaking

Eminence School District receives a playground update

The eastern Ozarks town of Eminence is home to about 600 people, but it’s a number that swells considerably during summer months. Every year, tourists come to town in search of natural beauty and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the nation’s first federally protected waterway system.

While the community is rich in stunning scenery, extra dollars and cents tend to be fewer and far between. An example is the Eminence School District’s athletic complex, where playground equipment was rapidly aging — but not in any budget for replacement.

An answer to that need came through a $25,000 grant from the Coover Charitable Foundation, which provided funding to replace the equipment. It’s a support for the district with about 260 students, more than 60% who qualify for free and reduced lunches, an indicator of a district’s poverty level.

“This was never going to be a district priority,” says Dr. Eric Allen, superintendent of the Eminence district, of replacing the equipment. “This is never going to supersede putting a roof on the elementary, or every three years we get a new bus. This was never going to get ahead of those types of things, especially not being our main playground.”

Once the aged structures are replaced, they will offer a greater resource for families at sporting events and for tourists. It could also potentially serve kids in the neighborhood who might want a place to play within easier walking distance than the school’s playground.

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New playground equipment will replace aged and unsafe structures at a park in Eminence.

Allen speaks from his office atop “high school hill,” a spot in Eminence where students in upper grades attend classes in a stately stucco structure dating to the early 1900s. It’s a place where history, tradition and culture are revered to the point that instead of a traditional band program, students can take lessons on stringed instruments like guitars and fiddles.

The school’s younger students attend school a mile or so away in West Eminence, an adjacent — yet technically separate — village to the Shannon County seat.

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Dr. Eric Allen is superintendent of the Eminence R-I District.

The playground equipment in question is in yet another location: It’s near the school’s athletic and agriculture complex, where visitors are drawn to watch sporting events, to walk along the track, to have a picnic beneath the pavilion, and to play.

Walking along the flat, grassy field, Allen describes the playground equipment. While some may be salvageable, there are other pieces — including a metal swing set and jungle gym — which show age.

He points out one place on the base of the swing set where a metal beam is broken and rusty. Some equipment is so old, Allen says, that he believes it was repurposed from elsewhere when it was installed in Eminence years ago.

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Allen shows damage on one of the playground structures.

“The playground equipment is just outdated, I don’t know how else to say it,” Allen says. “When I say old, I seriously think it’s ‘40s, ‘50s. You can just tell by the style.”

The new equipment features age-appropriate opportunities for kids to climb and play on horizontal ladders, climbers, a tilted bridge — to help improve balance — creatures to climb upon, and a new swing set.

In addition to serving families, the new equipment will improve a place where the school has several projects in motion: There’s the athletic component, but the land is also adjacent to space used by agriculture students who learn techniques that may benefit their lives in the future.

At various times of the year, the fields wave with corn and glow with jewel-hued pumpkins, a picture that will be enhanced by the new equipment.

“This will kind of be the crowning jewel,” says Allen of the equipment. “This will be something we never would have gotten done (at once) otherwise.”

By Kaitlyn McConnell, writer in residence for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks

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