After two years of student-led fundraising, hundreds of volunteer hours, and donations from businesses and organizations throughout the Chilkat Valley, the new playground at Klukwan School is days away from completion.

“We’re trying to build our program and grow our school, and the playground is a key part,” project organizer and advisory school board member Shanah Kinison said.

Klukwan School has been without a playground since the old one-a splintering wooden structure that was not up to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards-was taken down three years ago.

The following year, students at the school spearheaded a fundraising effort for a new structure under the guidance of then-teacher Jessica Tipkemper. Jennifer Marschke took the reins with the students and brought the project to fruition. Over the course of two years, the children raised several thousand dollars through bake sales, jewelry making, a Papa John’s Pizza sale and concession stands at the Dick Hotch Memorial Basketball Tournament.

Project volunteer Dan Hotch said his father, Joe Hotch, came up with a name for the playground, a word in Tlingit that means both “the kids started it” and “the kids finished it.”

Planning and executing the project provided hands-on learning opportunities in a range of areas.

“Jen and the kids did the research on different play structure companies, environmental research on the mulch, took measurements when they were looking at different features and did public speaking to argue for the features they wanted in the new playground,” Klukwan School education specialist Justina Hotch said.

The Advisory school board estimates the project cost at least $85,000, factoring in volunteer labor and donated supplies. The Chatham School District committed $20,000 to the replacement of the structure. The rest came from Chilkat Indian Village, donations and local fundraising efforts.

The first grant came from the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation after students wrote a letter explaining the importance of the playground. The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan contributed $20,000 toward the purchase of the structure, and donated fill, equipment and work crew members to help install the playground. They also paid their grant writer to apply for a $20,000 grant from the Crossett Foundation.

Alaska Marine Lines donated shipping costs. Southeast Roadbuilders donated cement. Mountain Market donated coffee and cups for fundraisers, and several organizations donated space for fundraising, including Klukwan ANS Camp #8, Haines ANB Camp #5 and the Haines School District. Goldbelt Heritage Foundation provided after school support for student planning and fundraiser preparations.

A group of roughly a dozen volunteers saved $15,000 by installing the structure themselves over the course of a week.

“The layout had to be right on the money,” said Jim Stanford, who has installed a number of playgrounds in the past and donated his time for the project.

Stanford estimates it took a total of 600 volunteer hours to dig out the playground area, fill it with sand, put in roughly 50 postholes and get the 3-D jigsaw puzzle of a structure to fit together just right.

The assembly instructions “were definitely not made with volunteers in mind,” said Kinison, who shouldered most of the burden of deciphering them.

With the concrete poured on Thursday, June 4, the shiny, metal structure is almost finished. The last step is the mulch, which will go in later this month. Down the line, Klukwan head teacher Eric Hart plans to do a carving project with students to create plaques honoring donors and volunteers.

Normally, the playground’s completion would be marked by a community-wide gathering. This year, a conventional event won’t be possible because of the pandemic. Kinison said the community is working to figure out how to mark the occasion without an in-person celebration.