Community unites to build new school playground

June 4, 2014 

Something interceded with my plan to cover this exciting ribbon cutting opening of Voyager Elementary’s new playground. BUT, thanks to John Jolibois, Co-President of Voyager Elementary PTA, I was almost there — almost.

Students were very surprised the structure was built while they were on Spring Break. There were oohs and aahs the morning they surrounded the structure for the ribbon cutting ceremony. Voyager principal Patty McClelland recognized second-graders who raised the most money for the project; they got to choose the color scheme, green and blue of the Seattle Seahawks, and also got to be first to play on the new structure.

“We built on the great work of the previous PTA board,” Jolibois said. “Student excitement and commitment carried us the rest of the way in this community effort to fund and build.”

Local companies that worked on the structure went beyond the call of duty; hands-on all the way. Contractor Brett Oliver of Cascade Recreation spent a day installing 100 cubic yards of wood chips and Voyager parent volunteers like Michael Flaherty helped install the chips before the kids returned from Spring Break.

All funds were raised by Voyager PTA, with the bulk being raised by Voyager students and families. Mercurio’s Heating and Air Conditioning, Rush Companies, McDonalds/Pat Maher, Peninsula Auto Group, Heritage Bank, the Tacoma Rainiers, Tracy’s Quality Painting, Gig Harbor Kiwanis, Ulsh Excavating and the Ben B. Cheney Foundation all donated to the project.

Kindergartner Cayden Desjardins, the student who raised the most money in the Spell-a-Thon fundraiser, was the ribbon-cutter. Asked about cutting the ribbon, he said, “It was fun because the ribbon just broke apart real fast!” Commenting on the playground, he declared, “the blue and green things that hang on there are cool.”

Mitch Huber, a fifth- grader, said, “This is the best playground in the school district! I really like it!”

Said Voyager parent Krista Fortino, its Chair, “Spell-A-Thon was incredibly successful this year due to hard work and determination of students, families, and staff making sure this was the year the playground improvement would break ground.”

“I am grateful to the many individuals and businesses who donated to this project,” McClellan said. “We live in a wonderful, generous community. It contributed thousands of hours of fun play time for our current and future Voyager students. Thank you!”

“The Cheney Foundation is pleased to participate in the Voyager playground project,” said Brad Cheney, executive director. “Our entire board resides in the Gig Harbor area and at one time or another all of our children have played on this playground.”

The old structure, deemed dangerous due to rotten wooden sections, was removed last year. Jolibois said.

“This is a big deal for the students since they helped raise over half of the funds through various school functions like Spell-a-Thon,” she said.

For second-grader Bowen Bratrud, “It was a huge surprise to come to school and find a big new playground.”

Attending the opening day were Dr. Harlan Gallinger, school board chair; Jolibois, principal McClelland, Cheney and Peninsula School District Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto.

Wish Idda bin there!

Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at

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