GFPS received $418,200 in donations for Longfellow Elementary School

The Great Falls Public School Foundation announced $418,200 in donations for Longfellow Elementary School during the Dec. 16 school board meeting.

Several donors contributed for different projects at the school, which is currently under construction.

The school at 1100 6th Ave. S. was torn down and a new building is being constructed on the site. In the meantime, students are occupying Roosevelt Elementary at 2501 2nd Ave. N.

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The donations include $350,000 for an inclusive playground at the new Longfellow.

That includes $200,000 from the Grey Family Foundation and $150,000 from D.A. Davidson Companies for an inclusive playground designed to accommodate physical disabilities. The playground will have specialized equipment and rubber tiles, with benches, water fountain and lighting, and be open to the community.

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During the Dec. 16 meeting, the board approved naming requests for the park, which will be the “Longfellow and Community Playground Supported by D.A. Davidson Companies” and “Longfellow and Community Playground, in loving memory of Margaret Severance Grey, native of Great Falls 1922-2019.”

According to the foundation, Margaret Grey was a Great Falls native, graduate of Great Falls High and earned a degree at Stanford University. She brought her family back to Great Falls in the summers to enjoy their family cabin at Logging Creek.

Ruth Uecker, assistant superintendent, said playgrounds at schools are typically funded through parent teacher associations, but they haven’t been prosperous in recent years and fundraising is challenging, especially for high ticket items like an inclusive playground.

She said it would be a playground where children of all abilities would be able to interact and play.

“It’s hard to sit and watch your peers play and you don’t get to engage with them,” she said of traditional playgrounds.

Lance Boyd, principal at Longfellow, said when he became principal he spent time on the playground to get to know the students. The students kept saying they were going to the park, which turned out to be the school playground in the evenings.

It was a safe gathering place for the students and the inclusive playground “is game changing,” Boyd said.

The school board also approved a naming request from an anonymous donor. The donor gave $48,200 for a learning resource room that will be named the “Tammy L. Lacey Learning Resource Center” in honor of the former GFPS superintendent. A nearby plaque will read “in honor of Tammy’s dedicated service as a teacher and administrator in Great Falls Public Schools.”

According to the foundation, the learning area will include four classrooms and a breakout area. “It will allow the special education department to provide the opportunity for students to utilize assistive technology to expand their communication needs,” according to the foundation.

The donation will provide furniture and equipment “suited to advance the education of special needs children,” according to the foundation.

Another $20,000 was donated for a sensory room by Stu and Janie Nicholson. They requested, and the school board approved, that the room be named “Fran Masters Sensory Room.” A nearby plaque will read “in honor of Fran’s 27 years of outstanding instruction in Great Falls Public Schools. Gift from Stu and Janie Nicholson. Janie was Fran’s career mentor.”

According to the foundation, the “state of the art sensory therapy room is where the occupation and physical therapists, along with teachers, can serve students in small groups or in one-on-one sessions to address a student’s specific hanicapping condition and IEP goals.”