LINCOLN SQUARE — McPherson Elementary's new playground leaves students high and dry, and that's a good thing.
The school's former outdoor play area, dubbed the "mud pit" for its status following rains, has been transformed into a state-of-the-art jumble of equipment — slides, climbing mounds and a giant spider web for the youngsters to scale — built on a porous rubber surface that absorbs water.
"I'm just sort of giddy with how great this space turned out," said Bob Farster, head of McPherson's Local School Council.
The official ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday drew a larger than usual group of VIPs — among them State Sen. Heather Steans (D-7th), Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) — representing the wide range of entities involved in funding the project, which also includes a learning garden on the school's east side.
"We're always cobbling together dollars. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not," said Pawar.
Steans helped obtain state funding, and Barrett and Porto, the developers behind the neighboring Ravenswood Mariano's grocery, contributed $100,000.
Openlands and BMO Harris Bank provided support for an outdoor classroom and stage as part of its Building School Gardens program.
"You're going to learn about nature and how to be good stewards of nature," Adelmann told McPherson's students.
Every one of the school's students was involved in planting the learning garden's 3,000 perennials, according to Kim Silver, president of Friends of McPherson, the school's fundraising arm.
For McPherson's kindergartners, the project has already provided an unexpected lesson.
The children's classroom overlooks the new playground, giving them a bird's-eye view of the construction process.
"Construction worker became the hot career," said teacher Cassie Wagner. "They were like, 'I want to build playgrounds.'"