Walt Slater put his hands in the air, pointing skyward to a cloudless sky.
Then he slid. The kindergartener took the curve, his hands in the air the entire time. He reached the bottom, the ride lasting but a second or two, but oh what a ride it was.
Students at W.J. Gurganus Elementary School in Havelock celebrated the opening of a new playground on a mild spring day last week the only way they knew how, with squeals of delight for each ride down the slide and each climb across the monkey bars.
“Awesome, I like it. I like it a lot,” Slater said of the new playground.
Money for the new playground came from U.S. Cellular through its Calling All Communities campaign, an online contest held during the fall in which schools receiving the most votes received $25,000 for projects. Gurganus placed 10th in the nationwide contest.
“We are super excited to be a part of this,” Jeremy Taylor, director of sales for U.S. Cellular, told the crowd of students and dignitaries during the Havelock Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We know an effort like this is a true campaign, and it takes a lot of people.”
He said U.S. Cellular has provided $4.5 million to schools across the country.
“I had to keep my team from getting on the playground and playing,” he said. “This is beautiful, and it looks like you very much took the $25,000 awarded and put it to good use.”
The new playground replaces an old wooden structure that was built during the school’s opening in 1991. On particularly hot days, the old playground couldn’t be used because it posed a safety threat to students.
“It was wooden and the ladders weren’t really tall to climb up, but the new playground is awesome,” Slater said. “I like the slide and the steering wheel and getting to play with my friends.”
Lane Mills, superintendent of Craven County Schools, had a walking boot on one of his feet and said he was disappointed that the injury would prevent him from enjoying the playground during the celebration.
“This is one of those days that brings things together and shows you what partnerships between community, business, our parents, our students and our teachers can all do for a school,” he said. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all the hard work that went into it. What a wonderful opportunity for our students to get a chance to play and grow, and we’ve got a pretty day for it.”
Principal Debbie Hurst thanked the community that went online and voted for the school to receive the money.
“All of you did this for us, and we thank you,” she said during the ceremony, with the students echoing her words with a collective “thank you” and holding up signs of appreciation.
Jenny Crandell and Courtney Turner, each with two students at Gurganus, spearheaded the effort to win the contest and were granted the opportunity to hold the red ribbon as students cut it to officially open the playground.
“We went business to business and door to door, sent emails, called people — every way we could think to get to people,” Crandell said of the effort among many parents to win the contest. “I don’t think there’s too many people in Havelock we didn’t communicate with in some way.”
After cutting the ribbon, they enjoyed watching as children flocked to play on the playground.
“It’s incredible,” Crandell said. “I’m so happy to see all the kids playing on the new playground, and they are so excited to have a new place to play.”
Crandell and Turner, both military spouses, are set to leave the area this summer through transfers but will depart knowing they are leaving a legacy behind at Gurganus.
“Our kids will get a brief amount of enjoyment from the new playground, but it will be here for a long time to come,” Crandell said. “We’re glad to have been a part of it and we’re glad it all came to fruition.”