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PUBLISHED: 11:15 AM on Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Project Playground puts children in charge

Courtesy photo
  John Dean, a designer from Leathers Associates, works on the design for a playground at Twin Lakes in Juneau.
Bouncy bridges. Curling slides. A climbing wall that resembles a glacier. It sounds like a child's fantasyland, which is exactly what Project Playground will turn out to be.

The playground, which will be built using children's ideas, volunteer labor and a lot of donated time and money, will take shape at Twin Lakes in May of 2007.

The brainchild of James King and Dawn Welch, the 15,000-square-foot site will feature multiple climbing structures, a tree house and castle, an observation platform, and swings.

"We'll also have a 'tot lot' for the younger kids, and ramps between different levels of the structure," King said. "And to fit with our southeastern Alaskan theme, the playground will have structures that resemble a fishing boat and ore cars, and a climbing wall that looks like a glacier."

The idea for the playground first came to light last summer, when King and Welch were discussing the need for a large-scale, destination-type place for children and their families to go.

"My family travels a lot, and we always stop at big playgrounds in other places, including the playground they have in Haines," King said. "We thought it would be neat if there was a place like this in Juneau, where kids would want to go as soon as they woke up on a Saturday morning."

The Project Playground group, which numbers about two dozen core members, is working with Leathers Associates to design the site which will be maintained by the city once it is completed. Leathers Associates, which is based out of Ithaca, New York, specializes in helping communities custom-design and build their own playgrounds, and is responsible for making sure that the structures are ADA-compliant and meet current building codes and standards. To date, the company has built more than 1,600 playgrounds around the world, including one in Haines.

In January, Leathers Associates representatives came to Juneau and spoke with hundreds of different children about what their ideas of a playground should be.

"After talking with the kids, the company designed the playground, and then we presented the concepts to more than 300 enthusiastic supporters," King said. "Now we are in the process of making adjustments and getting a final design."

"It was fantastic that so many people showed up and expressed an interest in the playground," said Dawn Welch, who was surprised by the large turnout.

"You don't know how many people are going to come to a presentation like that. All you can do is send fliers home with the kids, hope the fliers make it there, and that people will get excited."

While the final design is being prepared, the Project Playground group is creating a fundraising plan to help raise the roughly $325,000 it will take to complete the project.

"Our fundraising goal depends on how much material we can get donated," said King, who said the organization is currently aiming for $200,000. The city has already committed to provide roughly $125,000 in surfacing and site work for the project.

The fundraising plan includes the sale of pickets around the playground fence, and the ability for individuals or businesses to buy naming rights for different pieces of playground equipment.

"We'll also be looking into holding raffles, applying for grants and finding other sources of funding," King said.

In addition to partnering with the city, Project Playground is also partnering with Southeast Alaska Independent Living.

"SAIL is handling the finances of the project, with all donations going through them," King said. "They are also actively participating in the design process to make sure that the playground is as accessible as possible."

Welch agreed

"What's really going to be neat about the playground is its accessibility," Welch said. "There isn't any other playground in Juneau with features specifically designed for children with disabilities."

Currently, the group is working to recruit more volunteers to help in areas including fundraising and final construction.

"One of the things that made this project really appealing was the thought that it would become such a community project," Welch said. "Juneau gets into things like this, and always shows an incredible amount of support. I have no doubt that we'll have hundreds of people pulling together to get this thing built."

The playground is expected to go up the first week of May, with construction and volunteer efforts overseen by Leathers Associates.

"We've scheduled the build for Monday through Saturday, with a ribbon-cutting planned for Saturday afternoon," Welch said. "I'm sure there will be some kind of opening ceremonies, and then the kids can run out and play."

Once the playground is built, it is expected to attract families from all over Juneau, as well as those who are visiting the capital city.

"It's really exciting to think that we will have a destination-type park where kids will want to spend hours playing," King said. "It's not only good for the kids, but it's also a place where parents and families can get to know each other. It will be a place where people can come together and feel good."

For more information on Project Playground or to be a volunteer, go online to www.projectplayground.simchic.com or call (907) 523-9147.


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