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Not Just Any Playground

About the size of a football field and designed with all children in mind,Possibility Playground will require an army of volunteers to build next week

How hard can it be to assemble a playground? If it’s Possibility Playground, a universally accessible play area to be built next week in Port Washington’s Upper Lake Park, you’re not talking about just any playground.

Designed in part and named by children, this playground, which will feature a replica of the Port Washington lighthouse, a pirate ship and a dizzying array of ramps and slides, will be built essentially from scratch by an army of volunteers in just six days.

The details alone are staggering.

• Three semi-trailers of wood will be used, enough to build three ranch houses.

• The playground will be held together by 575 pounds of nails and 55,360 screws,

which volunteers have been busy color coding for the project.

• The project will require enough tools to fill a 48-foot semi-trailer.

• If every volunteer works one four-hour shift, roughly 3,000 people will be needed

to make Possibility Playground a reality.

• The finished playground will cost $450,000 and cover an area roughly the size

of a football field.

“There are so many details that sometimes it feels like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, but we know this can be done,” said Sue Mayer, co-chairman of a grass-roots group that launched Possibility Playground last year. “It’s going to be so exciting to see this dream become a reality.”

Reality sets in Tuesday, Sept. 16, when construction begins. Volunteers will work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day through Sunday, Sept. 21. Then a rubber surface will be poured to finish the playground, which is scheduled to open the first weekend in October.

“If it rains, we’ll keep working. About the only thing that will stop us is lightning,” Mayer said. “We’ll have spotlights and hanging lights so we can work into the night.”

The most immediate need is tools, said Mardy McGarry, co-chairman of the playground organization, whose dream it has long been to build a playground that can be used by children with and without disabilities. Organizers are asking people who wish to lend tools to do so this week so they can be organized in a trailer that will be kept at the construction site. “Our guarantee is that we’ll return the tools in as good or better condition or we’ll replace them,” Mayer said.

The most urgent need, however, is volunteers to build the playground. If each volunteer works one four-hour shift, about 450 people each day are needed, with about twice as many on Saturday, Sept. 20. Of the nearly 3,000 total volunteers required, about 2,300 still need to be recruited, organizers said Tuesday. The hope, of course, is that volunteers will work more than one shift on a given day or work more than one day, so the numbers are a little deceiving. The point is, however, it is going to take a small army to build Possibility Playground.

“It’s really important that people come on the first days,” McGarry said. “The more work we can finish early, the more time we’ll have in the end to add the details that will make this playground really special. And people who come to help at the end of the project may end up saying, ‘I wish I had come earlier in the week because this is a lot of fun.’”

McGarry said volunteers of all skill levels are needed. “A lot of people are nervous because they really don’t know how to build anything,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. They can hold a board for someone who is cutting it or get bolts to assemble parts. There are so many things to do that we need all the help we can get.”

Children 14 or older can volunteer to work, while those between the ages of 10 and 13 can help their parents build the playground. Free care for children who are toilet trained will be provided at the nearby Port Washington Yacht Club.

Food, which like most everything else associated with the playground is being donated, will be served at lunch and dinner time. “Work stops and everyone eats together,” McGarry said.

What’s unique about Possibility Playground is that it doesn’t come as a kit that needs to be assembled. There is no owner’s manual.

After asking children throughout the area how they would design a playground and with an eye toward structures that would be easy and fun for all kids and caregivers to use, organizers commissioned a design from Leathers & Associates, an Ithaca, N.Y., company that specializes in community-built playgrounds.

The company is sending three consultants to Port Washington for the project. They will oversee 15 volunteer foremen, or build captains, as they are called. These captains will, in turn, oversee specific parts of the project. “Everything is broken down into simple tasks with simple instructions, like cut five 2-by-4s into these lengths,” Mayer said.

Some of the playground features, such as slides, have been pre-made. But most components will be built from scratch. For instance, organizers could have purchased the spindles that will help form the railings on ramps, but instead received a donation of pipe from Milwaukee Stove and Furnace Supply. The pipes were then cut by J&H Heating Inc. of Port Washington, which is involved in many facets of the project. (Mayer’s husband Jeff is president of the company.)

“It’s absolutely amazing the things that are being donated,” Mayer said. “Three-quarters of the hardware has been donated and the list goes on and on.” Among the donations, just to name a few, are hotel rooms and cars for the consultants, cellular phones, food, gallons and gallons of water, bulldozers and semis, tools ranging from drills to table saws, a refrigerated truck, recreational vehicle, tents, tarps, lights and portable bathrooms.

“If anyone has a 20-by-30-foot tent, we could still use one of those,” McGarry said.

The donations are indicative of the momentum that has developed behind a project envisioned by McGarry, a special education instructor who teaches an early childhood class at Lincoln Elementary School in Port Washington.

Possibility Playground, with its wide ramps and flat rubberized surface, is designed to be accessible for children and caregivers with disabilities, but that doesn’t mean it is only for children with special needs, McGarry said. “If you make something accessible, then you’ve made it good for all children,” she said. In addition to the lighthouse and pirate ship, the playground will include a rock-climbing wall, chain walk castle, police car bouncy bridge, a mural of Lake Michigan, slides, rings, monkey bars, tunnels and a music area.

Championed by a committee of volunteers, McGarry’s goal of building a universally accessible playground slowly gained momentum.“At first, we’d go to events like the Port Washington farmers market and we’d have to grab people and tell them about the project,” McGarry said. “Now people are coming up to us asking how they can get involved.”

Fund-raising was the first big hurdle. “When we said we wanted to raise $450,000 to build a playground, people thought we were absolutely crazy,” Mayer said. McGarry recalled presenting the concept to Port Washington officials. “They basically said, ‘OK, you go ahead and do that.’ They didn’t think we could raise that much money,” she said.

There’s still money to be raised, but now the focus is completing a project that people once thought was impossible. “We know this is possible, but it’s going to take the whole community to do it,” McGarry said. “People are going to want to be part of this. When it is finished and they come here with their children, they can say, ‘I helped build Possibility Playground.’”

Before the playground can be opened, concrete will be poured around the structures, then the rubber surface will be installed. The opening is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 4.

“Unfortunately, kids won’t be able to play on the structures right away, but it will be worth the wait,” McGarry said.

–By BILL SCHANEN IVOzaukee Press staff

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