Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kids Assist in Planning Playground Orange Park Project Picking Up Support

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kids Assist in Planning Playground Orange Park Project Picking Up Support

Article excerpt

ORANGE PARK -- "If we build it, they will come and play," said Hank Racer pointing to a T-shirt he was wearing that promoted Project Playground, a concept that is gathering support in the Orange Park community.

The grass-roots project to build a playground at Clarke Park in Orange Park began in November with 15 people. It now has a committee of more than 130 residents trying to raise the funds needed to design and build the playground that is projected to cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

The playground, which is now being designed by children, will have over 100 wooden play structures to accommodate nearly 400 children. The play area will include bridges, climbing bars, swings, slides and tunnels and, depending on what the children decide they want, it might also include castles, planes, trains and towers.

An architect with Leathers & Associates was in Orange Park last week talking with school children about how they want the playground designed. The architectural firm, from Ithaca N.Y., has built more than 1,000 community parks across the United States, including one in St. Augustine and one in Keystone Heights.

"These projects are doable in a barn-raising fashion," said John Dean, who works with Leathers. "You can build a playground with volunteers because it is something most people will get behind and support."

At a meeting Thursday, Dean presented a rough sketch of the ideas given to him by Clay County schoolchildren he had spoken with earlier in the day. The drawing took into account that the group had asked that as many trees as possible be left intact and the playground be accessible to the disabled.

A group of more than 30 children cheered when Dean explained that the playground sandbox actually will be a sand river that will cut through the middle of the park. In addition to tunnels he had drawn around the entire playground area, he showed the children where tunnel, dragon and zip slides would be located. Other play structures included a train, a car and even a space shuttle. One interesting creation was a castle with an extended bridge that led to a pirate ship. Dean incorporated one child's request for a structure in the shape of an upside-down ice cream cone.

"This is a well-organized group and it is apparent that they understand the importance of the kids being involved," Dean said. "They have chosen a beautiful site and letting the kids be involved always brings in the parents and the community. I am sold on projects of this type because they are so unlike many things I have designed and built that became obsolete 10 years later."

All anyone had to do was look into the faces of the children who were giving Dean their thoughts and ideas, and they could see that he was right.

"I want bigger slides and more swings than what they have on any other playground in Florida," said 9-year-old Robert Gutcher, a third-grader at Grove Park Elementary School in Orange Park. …

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