CANAAN — Students at the Canaan Elementary School shrieked with delight when they recently returned from a field trip and saw the wood chips being poured around a new blue and white jungle gym at the school.

“The excitement was unbelievable,” said Juline Bilodeau, a first grade teacher at the school. “They saw that and they were just screaming. They were ecstatic.”

The $30,000 piece of playground equipment — which includes two slides and several variations of monkey bars, climbing contraptions and poles to slide down — is something that the school’s Parent Teacher and Friend organization has worked on for more than two years to turn into a reality.

The playground was opened to students on Sept. 28, and a grand opening is planned for Friday, Oct. 16. School officials, including Principal Steve Swindells, say the new equipment was needed to meet the demands of a growing student population and also to serve a largely economically disadvantaged community where there isn’t a lot of access to playgrounds.

“It’s not just a school playground but a community playground,” Swindells said. “We hope to see it used seven days per week and all summer long.”

Fundraising for the playground began in the 2013-2014 school year, when the school received a $15,000 grant from the New Balance Foundation for the equipment, said Stephanie Voter, the school nurse at the Canaan Elementary School and president of the PTF.

The PTF set a goal to match the funds in the next school year, she said. “There are no public playgrounds in Canaan, and the poverty rate is over 70 percent,” she said. “Just the drive to Skowhegan is not a reality for a lot of kids. We wanted to give them the opportunity to have a place to play.”

About 250 children attend the Canaan school, which is part of Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54. Last year almost 75 percent of students at the school qualified for free or reduced price lunches.

“The community put in a lot of work,” Voter said. “It’s a lot to ask of people in this area.”

After many fundraisers, including spaghetti suppers, a juggling show and a letter-writing campaign to local businesses and residents, the PTF raised the remaining $15,000.

The new jungle gym was installed this fall and was open to students Sept.28.

At first, there was a line to use the new equipment, said sixth-grader Kali Hale, 11.

“I didn’t want to play on it right away because everyone was,” she said. “I like it a lot,” she added. “I like the slides and especially when you have mittens on the pole is really fast to slide down. I like basically everything.”

“I think it’s fun because you get to climb and slide and do all kinds of stuff,” said classmate Makayla Wallingford, 11, of Canaan.

The only downside, so far, is for those who are afraid of heights.

“If you’re afraid of heights, I wouldn’t recommend going on the tall slides,” said fifth-grader Joshua Rairdon, 10, of Skowhegan. Other than that, he said he likes everything about the new playground.

The grand opening is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 16, at the Canaan Elementary School and is open to the public.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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