More trees, fewer floods: Jennie Reed Elementary remakes recess with new community park

Students at Jennie Reed Elementary once had to yell during recess to be heard over the roar of traffic from nearby Interstate 5. In the winter, their playground flooded and dilapidated play structures earned the nickname “ol’ rusty.”

That has all changed thanks to a revitalized playground designed by students and neighbors. The updated park replaces old equipment, reduces flooding and provides green space for the community to improve their physical and mental health after school hours.

Tacoma Public Schools (TPS), Trust for Public Land (TPL), and Metro Parks Tacoma (MPT) are celebrating the opening of the new playground at Jennie Reed Elementary on Wednesday, May 22 at 10:45 a.m. with an event led by their students.

“This is more than a playground. We’re showing our students that when they say something is important to them, we’re going to do something about it,” said Abby Sloan, principal at Jennie Reed Elementary. “Adding trees to block noise from nearby I-5 will make it easier for students to hear teachers and each other during the school day.”

Located in the northwest corner of the Lincoln International District, Jennie Reed Elementary serves a part of Tacoma with the highest concentration of concrete. The new park will allow 1,510 people to access green space within a 10-minute walk of where they live. The park will be open to the public after school hours, on weekends and during the summer, providing green space where neighbors can exercise and decompress. Community access will align with Metro Parks hours, except during school hours or school-related events.

Renovations add resources that allow students to exercise year-round. Additions include trees to limit highway noise and reduce stress, replacements for outdated playground equipment and improved water drainage. The updated playground will also host modern tracks and basketball courts, as well as ramps to improve accessibility.

“Communities need green spaces to be healthy. We’re proud to bring access to the outdoors for Tacoma neighborhoods that desperately need more space for people to gather and play,” said Sarneshea Evans, Northwest Parks for People Program Director for Trust for Public Land.

Jennie Reed’s opening marks the second major playground renovation in Tacoma aimed at building green community spaces in the city. Over the next several years, TPS, TPL and MPT will revitalize three additional playgrounds to add to the tree-filled playgrounds they’ve built at Helen B. Stafford and Jennie Reed elementary schools.

“With help from Trust for Public Land, our community is coming together in creative ways to address park access gaps in South Tacoma,” said Metro Parks Tacoma Board President Andrea Smith. “It’s great seeing how much the students love these new play spaces and we’re excited the broader neighborhood will be able to benefit.”

Neighbors played a huge role in creating the new park, contributing ideas during workshops and pop-up events. Community members were so excited to finally have access to green space that they gathered regularly to plant 60 trees at the park site.

“This project has been years in the making. We are grateful to our partners who have worked tirelessly to listen to our students, our school team and neighbors to create this amazing new space that will benefit students and the broader community,” said Tacoma Public Schools Board President Lisa Keating. “Having a safe, accessible green space for our students and school community will offer benefits for years to come.”

Studies found that Tacoma has the largest park access gap of any major city in Washington, which spurred a collaboration between TPL, MPT and TPS to add parks for the communities that need them most. The five new schoolyard parks will serve more than 25,000 people.

Improvements were made possible through community engagement, planning support and funding from Trust for Public Land and Metro Parks Tacoma. Additional funding was provided by Kaiser Permanente, the State of Washington, the Names Family Foundation, Russell Family Foundation, Wyncote Foundation Northwest, Boeing, and Bamford Foundation as well as many generous business, foundations, and community members.
With the price of land rising in Tacoma, transforming existing schoolyards into community parks outside of school hours is a cost-effective and innovative solution, adding natural and public spaces to communities who need them most.

“At Kaiser Permanente, we continuously strive to improve the health of our communities,” said Dr. Sarah Haastrup, district medical director and family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Tacoma Medical Center. “We know that parks like the Tacoma Green Schoolyard benefit all ages, creating accessible green space that can help build physical fitness, enhance mental health, and build essential social connections – and that’s good for everyone.”

With the opening of Jennie Reed Elementary and Helen B. Stafford Elementary’s renovated schoolyards, Trust for Public Land and partners are working to complete fundraising for Mann, Whitman and Larchmont elementary schools.

About Trust for Public Land
Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where they are needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 4 million acres of public land, created more than 5,420 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $94 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected nearly 9.7 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit

About Tacoma Public Schools
Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) is one of the largest districts in Washington State serving approximately 28,000 children in preschool through grade 12. The district has 36 elementary schools, 13 middle schools, 11 high schools and four early learning centers. TPS has nearly 5,000 employees and is one of the largest employers in Tacoma.

About Metro Parks Tacoma
Metro Parks Tacoma is a CAPRA-accredited, independent park district that leads efforts to build a healthy, sustainable community. Metro Parks has created healthy opportunities to play, learn and grow since 1907.