School, depot partner for contests

Teamwork may pay off big for two area groups.

Blackburn Elementary School and The Newton Depot Authority partnered in the Pepsi Refresh Everything contest, a competition for project grant funding that is solely determined by public votes.

Though competing in separate categories, both groups seek funding for projects they say will enhance their organizations and the community.

Both currently rank just outside the winning parameters on a list of nationwide organizations that will receive funding at the end of the year.

Blackburn, located off N.C. 10 in Newton, seeks $50,000 for a new playground for its kindergarten and first-grade students. The Newton Depot Authority is competing for $25,000 to restore 100-year-old train equipment for its future outdoor train museum.

While the two started their quests for project funding separately, they’ve learned a little local cooperation can heavily increase their chances to win.

“We are working together to bring more resources to our groups as well as the state,” said Julie Young, vice president of the Blackburn Parent Teacher Organization that is leading the Pepsi funding push for the school. “Whenever we promote our project, we encourage people to vote for the depot as well and vice versa. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

The competition is decided by online and text-message voting.

Blackburn, currently ranked 26th out of 323 applicants, needs to finish in the top 10 to receive $50,000 in cash. The Newton Depot Authority, which ranks 24th out of 224 applicants, needs to finish in the top 15 to win $25,000 in funding.

Blackburn’s ‘Fit to Learn Playground’
Blackburn’s project revolves around replacing an old and broken playground with new equipment.

The school’s current facility for kindergarten and first-grade students features what officials call a limited structure that has broken slides, rust and chipped paint.

“The population they expected to use it has dramatically increased,” Young said, adding that there are about 190 students that use the playground. “We’re trying to replace it because the kids are having to play on the older children’s playground equipment that is not designed and sometimes unsafe for them. They’re also having to take turns on who has to go outside and play."

In a nation where playing video games and watching TV have become more enticing than outdoor recreation, Young said a safe and adequate space for children to play is a necessity.

If it wins, Blackburn will use the money for a complete playground renovation that will include new equipment and a space for outdoor learning.

“Nowadays, there might be days when kids never go outside and play,” Young said. “We are trying to make that safe play area where students can learn in an environment that’s good for them.”

Newton Depot Authority museum
If it wins, The Newton Depot Authority will use funds to renovate, restore and replace old train equipment for its future outdoor museum.

Earlier this year, the depot unveiled plans to build a large outdoor train museum that will include century-old displays of steam engines, boxcars and other train equipment.

“We are trying to restore the equipment to running condition,” said Matt Bumgarner, a member of the depot authority’s board of directors.

“We just want to do it the right way. Being railroad enthusiasts, we are not content with static displays permanently.”

Bumgarner said the money will pay for wheel-set fabrication, paint and custom-built equipment.

“For a steam engine that’s 100 years old, you can’t just go buy a part, you have to have it custom made,” he said.

The depot’s board members say the future depot improvements will not only benefit Newton, but the county and state as well.

“There’s no question that people will be coming from many states to see this exhibit when it’s completed,” said board member Tom Warlick. “I think it will be a definite benefit to the community and county as a whole.

People from many states will remember our name.”