After an 18 year run, it’s fair to say that in Huntington Woods has seen its share of tag games, hide and seek and children getting splinters.
Used for countless recesses, after-school activities, weekend pickup games and summer play dates, it is now showing a wear-and-tear that’s potentially dangerous for local children.
That’s why one group of community members is doing its part to rally the community and completely transform Burton Community Park in just one year.
“When we made the decision to rebuild, we knew we wanted a sustainable structure that would last us 50 years,” said Lauren Hirsch, chair of the Friends of Burton Community Park and a Burton Elementary School PTA member. “It was important that the new playspace was wheelchair and stroller friendly and that the space allowed for our children to run throughout the play area safely.”
The plan was first announced last fall and now that the group has a clear budget and rendering of the proposed playscape, it is ready to share its vision and rally the support of the community — especially with raising money.
A campaign to raise the $500,000 needed ends in February 2013, with plans to see the first shovel hit the ground in June 2013. Committee members said they hope to get grant money to assist their goals.
Assessing playtime in the city
The idea sprung up in 2010 from Principal Beth Krehbiel, with the support of the PTA and school administrators, when Hirsch said they began thinking about the future of the park.
The group consulted with Lou Rubenstein, Huntington Woods’ code enforcement officer and a certified playground inspector. He recommended rebuilding the playground rather than trying to repair it, which would result in a costly and short-term fix, Hirsch explained.
“In order to accomplish our goals, we knew we had to hire experts rather than depend on our community to help us build a new playground,” Hirsch said, adding that they’ve included the vision of residents along with the expertise of professionals.
“The space has so many great new features and functionality,” Krehbiel said about the proposed new park.
In addition to multiple types of swings, four square set up and tunnels, the park's additions will include benches, waste receptacles, picnic and shelter areas to be dually used as outdoor classroom space and safety features, such as clear climbing towers to better monitor children.
Crafting the perfect playscape
When it came to imaginging the best playground possible, the structure embodied fun, fitness and saftey, committee members said.
“Exercise is such an important part of staying healthy and the new playscape provides a safe space for kids to run, play and burn off energy,” Krehbiel said.
In addition to capitalizing on exercise and physical activities that are more inclusive for families, Krehbiel said the plan also focused on the safety of the kids.
Between the splinters children are getting from the aging wood and the rats that live underneath in the woodchips, Krehbiel said the current playscape is more of a hazard now, which is why the plan completely reconstructs the entire existing structure.
Thankfully, it’s an area with much potential, she added, and plans for the renovated Burton Community Park include the children’s favorite past-times, such as running (which the current structure doesn’t permit), sliding, rocking, jumping, climbing and spinning — along with new elements of modern-day playgrounds, like nuclear rockers and the hemisphere climber.
“This is all to ensure sustainability, endurance and safety,” she said.
Fundraising: work before play
The estimated price tag to tear down the existing playground, prepare the site and build the new play space comes to $500,000, according to Hirsch.
“While this seems like a lot of money, the committee has spent a great deal of time planning, discussing and developing the ideal space. What most people do not realize is that the existing play structure cost our community $250,000 18 years ago and that was for materials only. If you include the track in that figure, the number goes up to $600,000,” said Julie Greenfield, a committee member for the park.
Committee member Susan Witus agreed that the expenses will be well worth it in the long run if locals can do their part to help out. “It’s a big investment that we know will pay off. We have plans to raise the money but we need the help of the community,” she said.
The committee has started a fundraising site on Crowdrise and Witus said the group is hoping to recruit other community members in its efforts to spread the word and ensure the transformation happens on schedule.
“We hope many people in Huntington Woods will step forward, chair a subcommittee or participate in some way,” she explained, adding that volunteers in public relations, social media, fundraising and grant writing would be particularly helpful.
“We are excited about the future of our playground and know that kids for generations to come will benefit from the hard work we dedicate.”
Witus agreed that one of the most challenging, yet rewarding parts of the process will be the fundraising around the community.
“This will be good old-fashioned community organization,” she told City Commission members at a recent meeting.
Witus said the group is also optimistic about local efforts, like the Burton classroom challenge and the buildup from word of mouth fundraising, including with expats.
“This is a true community effort and we’re very excited to be a part of that."