BUTTE — Numerous parents, teachers and other community members sat in a circle inside Butte Elementary School’s gymnasium Jan. 31 to discuss the Flores/Quackenbush Memorial Playground to be built in memory of the five girls who died in a house fire in September of 2017.
“I was pleased to get all the information out in the public,” Butte Elementary School principal Joshua Rockey said.
Toward the beginning of the meeting, Rockey asked the group to raise their hands if they came to the meeting if they came because they thought the playground was a good idea. Most of the hands rose. He asked how many came because they had concerns. Again, most of the attending hands shot in the air.
“I just want to make sure whatever we do gets done with the best possible answer,” Rockey said.
Alexis Quackenbush (12), Nevaeh Flores (8), Lillyanna Flores (7), Sofia Flores (6), and Jaelynn Flores (3) all lost their lives during the fire.
The memorial playground project coordinator Sally Beach is the captain of the Butte Emergency Medical Services. She was one of the first responders on the scene that fateful day in 2017.
During the meeting, she got teary-eyed as she provided background on who the five girls’ were before they met their tragic end. She said that she hopes this project will offer some closure to the Butte community while honoring the five girls’ lives.
“By building this at the school we hope to aid the classmates, the staff, the staff, the school administration, as well our community in healing,” Beach said.
Since there is already equipment for the general student population, the new equipment will be geared mostly for preschool age students.
Butte Elementary kindergarten teacher Amy Roberts said that focus was fitting because their preschool population is growing and there is no current playground equipment they’re allowed to access.
Beach and numerous volunteers have been working on this playground project since October of 2017.
Beach and her fellow volunteers are ultimately looking to gift the playground to Butte Elementary to be utilized by the students and the greater community.
The total budget has been reduced from approximately $120,000 to about $60,000 after scrapping the idea of having a pavilion near the playground. The pavilion idea was tossed out due in no small part to concerns over inviting local vagrants and vandals.
The conversation split towards the end of the meeting with two different trains of thought. One side was all for having the playground housed at the school while the other side preferred to have the playground built somewhere else.
Despite differing opinions on the location, both sides of the debate agreed that the playground idea was a good one and it would benefit the community as a whole.
There was also a lot of talk about the memorial plaque intended to be an integral part of the project. Meeting attendees expressed concerns over the wordage and overall presentation in fear of “re-traumatizing” the students and other children utilizing the playground.
Local parent Mary Ruth Gentry said that she had “mixed emotions” about the project but she also saw “all sides of it.” She said that the playground is a good idea but she wants it to be handled delicately as possible.
“I think there is a way to reach common ground,” Gentry said.
The playground project is still $40,000 away from the goal. Beach said they were hoping to have it built this summer but they need to wait until the community is able to talk things out and they get the final word on how to proceed.
“I think we have a good starting point to reach our goal together,” Beach said.
For more information about the project, email Beach at email@example.com.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org