June 23, 1997 in Nation/World

Volunteers Help Erect Playground At Center

By The Spokesman-Review

They donned windbreakers and gloves. They wrestled with ratchets and drills.

Volunteers this weekend once again turned out to show that the Lake City cares about kids, working on the first stage of a second new playground at Harding Family Center.

The center, 411 N. 15th, is operated by North Idaho College, and is home to Head Start and similar programs. And late Sunday, it was also home to a giant, $26,000 toy - complete with hamster-tube slides and a firefighter’s pole.

There’s more in the works - the whole project will take 10 years to complete, said Doug Fagerness, director of Head Start.

The playground will be a virtual garden complete with a gazebo and a reading hill shaded by a canopy of cherry trees.

“So many playgrounds really look like exercise yards in a penitentiary,” Fagerness said.

That asphalt mindset won’t dominate here.

The playground toys will be nested among those cherry trees and plum trees.

Blueberries and strawberries will grow, too. “We want a few munchy-type things,” Fagerness explained - healthy snacks at arm’s reach.

And anyone can go there. “It’ll be like a park,” he said. “It’ll be open to everyone.”

The park project is not a sequel to the playground built by volunteers at Coeur d’Alene Park in May. Instead, Harding Family Center’s plans have been three years in the making. The center polled neighbors to find out what they needed in their neighborhood.

“One of the things they really wanted was a safe place for kids to play,” Fagerness said.

Almost 50 people turned out to help Saturday, and about a dozen were there Sunday morning.

“It’s great fun,” said volunteer Allen Dodge, tightening up a clamp. “Exactly how to do it is up to the group.”

They had blueprints to follow, but the troubleshooting was up to those who brought the muscle. And even though the weather was bad, no one seemed to care.

“At least it’s not storming,” Madeline Settle shrugged.

Volunteers hammered on metal, making the place ring like a blacksmith’s shop. As the green pipes went up, Morgan Dodge could just relax. His job was yet to come.

“I’m sort of the tester,” the 10-year-old said, nestled in an upside-down plastic pyramid, later to be a roof. “I test everything.”

Next year, the playground will have an AmeriCorps volunteer working there during the day to supervise. That’s to make sure all those future testers don’t strangle one another.

The volunteer will teach the kids how to resolve conflicts, Fagerness said. “Not just the whistle approach, ‘You’re outta here.”’

He stood back for a minute, surveyed the giant erector set from beneath a “This Old House” cap, then smiled.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I’m in awe of the whole thing.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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