BANGS — There’s a mystery to be solved at J.B. Stephens Elementary School: What happened to the playground?
The question has a simple answer, but the mystery of the missing playground has become the plot for a video that was filmed on campus last week.
The new addition to the school, funded by a May 2006 bond election, has been built on the site of the former playground. Now, school officials, parents and students are in the process of raising the thousands of dollars needed to purchase and install new equipment.
The video made Tuesday will be used as part of grant applications to various foundations and corporations. Meanwhile, the campus parent-teacher organization and even the students continue to keep busy holding fund-raisers. School officials had hoped that the bond proceeds would cover a new playground, but escalation of construction costs since the bond package was approved have forced some items to be deferred.
“The PTC initiated the process three years ago,” Regenna Gamblin, first grade teacher, said. “The students have been raising funds by selling pencils and other projects. And the community has been very supportive through our fall festival. I can’t say how much help that has been.”
During the hour before the video project began, Principal Mike Cofresi was busy hanging paper chains from the ceilings of the new addition’s hallways.
“The way it’s going, it’s going to go the entire length of the hall several times over,” Cofresi said with a smile.
Each paper link in the chain represents a dime the students have raised. The chains are color-coded by grade, and a contest among the students will continue until classes break for Christmas.
During the first three days of the contest, more than $600 was raised. That amount had doubled by midweek, and was up to $1,700 Friday morning — and students were bringing in money after that. All of it was keeping Cofresi busy hanging chains.
Gamblin said the idea to create a video to accompany grant applications was discussed by the administrative and educational staff at the school.
“I kept thinking, ‘How can I do this?’” Gamblin said.
Meanwhile, another first grade teacher, Nita Tapley, was saying, “Well, I know a guy…”
It took several mentions before that sunk in.
“That guy” turns out to be Tapley’s brother-in-law, professional photographer Jim Tapley of Dallas. Tapley spent Tuesday in Bangs staging the production using J.B. Stephens students in scenes based on a script he wrote.
Tapley, a veteran of 19 years on the news staff of WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas, said his family doesn’t ask him to help often with such projects. His schedule was open for a few days this week, so he agreed to take it on.
“It’s a relatively simple project,” said Tapley, who worked in Philadelphia before moving back to Dallas and opening Jim Tapley Productions. “They believe a professional product will grab the attention of the people making grants.”
“We hope to have this video included in several grant applications,” Gamblin said. But for starters, the school has a grant of $10,000 in mind from a corporate retail chain.
“It’s a film noir detective story,” Tapley said of the video, “complete with a femme fatale. She hires a detective to solve the mystery of what happened to the playground, with all the actors being students. The detective tells the story through a voice-over.”
Tapley was not certain who would do the speaking part, but he said he knows of talent in the Dallas area he may recruit.
“The detective shows off the school,” Tapley said, reviewing a series of pages that were prepared with the detail a movie script would receive. “The detective shows off the new parts of the school, and discusses why a new school was needed. The solution to the mystery is going to be that something had to give in the budget. The solution was staring us in the face all the time.”
Tapley said in the video, the solution to the mystery gives way to a new mystery: “How are we going to pay for the new playground? They video will then offer an opportunity to help solve that mystery.”
Tapley works with hospitals, churches and educational institutions from his Dallas office, including SMU and the Dallas Independent School District. He’s familiar with working with school construction, because the Dallas schools have completed a massive bond program and he was hired to document its progress.
Coming to Bangs was almost like returning home for the filmmaker.
“Coleman was my second home growing up,” Tapley said. “My grandparents lived there, and my dad was a Baptist preacher so we lived all around. I always spent Christmas and summer vacation in Coleman, and those are good memories.”
Tapley said both his parents are Howard Payne University alumni, and he has three nieces and nephews either attending or planning to attend there.
“I went to Baylor, so I guess I’m the renegade of the family,” Tapley said. Tapley also as a Master’s in Information Systems from Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Part of the Bangs production includes school students singing “Where, oh where has my playground gone” to the tune of “Where, on where has my little dog gone.” Lyrics were written by first grade teacher Clairissa Tucker. Students also drew posters of how they would like their new playground to look. One poster showed a roller coaster.
Gamblin said the purchase price of the playground represents only about half of the money the school will need to complete it. Costs of shipping, installation and landscaping to safety requirements could double the price.
A basic playground for the school will cost about $32,000, but one like the school would like to get could run $50,000. The total cost would be about double that.