Fundraiser Seeks $1.5 Million for New School Playground Equipment

A $1.5 million fundraiser is underway to provide new equipment for three playgrounds at Sturgeon Bay’s two elementary schools.

Sturgeon Bay’s District Playground Committee, composed of staff members and parent volunteers, is behind the effort and is seeking the community’s help to have two new playgrounds at Sawyer Elementary School and a new playground at Sunrise Elementary School.

Committee member Teri VanLieshout, a sixth-grade science teacher at T.J. Walker Middle School who previously taught at Sunrise Elementary School, said the current playgrounds at both schools are outdated and not inclusive of all abilities. In addition, custodians are not able to purchase parts for repairs when the equipment is damaged. 

VanLieshout said 96% of the project funds to replace the playground equipment will come from donations, with the district contributing $60,000.

“The goal is to have funds secured by the end of 2022, to begin construction in the spring and summer of 2023,” she said.

Playground concept for Sawyer Elementary 1st-2nd grade play area.

If that goal is realized, VanLieshout said new playgrounds could be ready for students when they return to school in the fall of 2023.

During the 2021-22 school year, Sturgeon Bay’s schools underwent numerous building improvements across the district. Now that the dust has settled on those projects, VanLieshout said that many in the district looked outside and saw a new area to grow with the playgrounds.

“A plan is in place for these new play spaces, which will be an asset to the community at large,” she said. “Sawyer and Sunrise Elementary Schools are partnering with Burke Recreation to build a total of three new playgrounds on the two campuses.”

The plans are available for review at

VanLieshout said plans for the two updated playgrounds at Sawyer Elementary include one playground serving children in grades 1-2, and a second playground on the opposite side of the school serving early-childhood and kindergarten students.

“Both of these playgrounds will be accessible for ages 2-12, which covers all ages at Sawyer School,” she said. “These playgrounds will be wheelchair accessible in multiple areas.”

VanLieshout said the playground planned for Sunrise Elementary will be for the entire school.

Playground concept for Sunrise School.

“This playground will be accessible for ages 5-12 and will also include wheelchair accessibility,” she said.

As an added asset to the community, all three playgrounds will be available for use by residents and visitors when school is not in session, VanLieshout said.

With more than $118,000 of the $1.5 million goal raised, she said the committee is looking for more help and noted that it “will be recognizing donors in a visible way.” Those who wish to donate can get further information by calling 920.495.9165.

VanLieshout said donations can be mailed to the school offices: Sawyer Elementary School, 60 Willow Dr., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235; or Sunrise Elementary School, 1414 Rhode Island St., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235.