Memorial playground project needs cash, then volunteers

Pirates, castles, a dragon and an incredible triple slide. They all could be coming to Park Road Park, if the community comes through with the donations and volunteer hours needed to properly honor the victims of last year’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The current Park Road Park playground will be replaced by the memorial playground.

“My boss, it really hit him hard and he felt like he needed to do something in memory,” said Lori Saylor, volunteer services and special events coordinator for Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, said. So, the department decided to focus its third annual Hats Off to Parks event on raising funds to build a memorial playground in honor of the children and educators killed in the Newtown, Conn., shooting. The design is complete, and includes among other things a dragon slide, numerous monkey bars and a pirate ship.

Parks department officials picked south Charlotte’s Park Road Park for the honor – in part because the last two projects went to other parts of the city, but also because the playground equipment at the popular facility is aging and due to be replaced.

“We looked at a couple of parks,” Saylor said. “Park Road Park has the space, and it was a need, and the stars all aligned.”

The department has done other projects of this type. One went in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood, which was in bad need of a park though it wasn’t high on the priority list of projects parks and rec was ready to spend on. Another project went at Nevin Park, which utilized more than 4,000 volunteers in a week’s time thanks to local businesses signing up to help.

“We try to find things we can partner with communities or difference schools on for when there’s a really big need for something people have been waiting a long time to get,” Saylor said.

Now the focus moves to Park Road Park, where the department has called in some extra special help to make the project happen. Students at nearby Pinewood Elementary School were asked to give their input on what should go at the park. Kids from each grade level got 15 minutes to draw what they imagine their dream park to be, with designers incorporating the ideas into the final product.

“It was really amazing what these kids came up with,” Saylor said.

With the design in place, Saylor next has to come up with the money. Donations are accepted, and there are links on the department’s website to help people give. But the key tool in making the memorial playground a reality is the May 10 Hats Off to Parks event, what Saylor described as “almost like the Kentucky Derby in a park” in terms of the social and fashion scene that will happen at Frazier Park. Women will wear their spring hats and men their seersucker suits and make a day out it for a good cause. The event will include lunch from Armin’s Catering – shrimp and grits, pimento cheese, macaroni salad and more – jazz music and a silent auction featuring more than 50 items donated by community partners. Tickets cost $50, with funds benefiting the playground build. Find more information at the event website, www.partnersforparks.org.

Saylor said her boss, Jim Garges, has challenged other parks and recreation departments across the country to make similar memorial parks for children to enjoy while honoring the lives of those lost at Sandy Hook.

“You think you’re so far away from where it happened,” Saylor said, “but there are people right here in our community who were very touched by it.”

It’s unclear when construction will start on the project, since Saylor isn’t sure how long it will take to get the cash. But once money is in hand she’ll start rounding up volunteers to make it happen. She said she may need around 2,500 volunteers in order to complete the project quickly.

Find more information at the department’s website, www.charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/ParkandRec/Pages/default.aspx.

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