Kiwanis playground has a rich historyCommunity-build project involved 1,750
One of 22 projects identified in Waynesville’s Recreation Master Plan includes upgrading the Kiwanis Community Playground built in 2002.
The story behind the playground is one that captivated the imagination of many in the community 15 years ago and brought together 1,750 volunteers to build it. From beginning to end, the project took five days.
Records are not readily available on the total cost of the project, but past newspaper clippings show the real savings in the massive building project came from the volunteers who lent their time and talents to building it.
The Kiwanis garnered naming rights for the playground after taking a lead fundraising role and contributing $25,000. Ironically, this was the same amount as was contributed by Ingles.
Kiwanis member Jim Hoyt is one of the few current members who was around when the playground was built.
“Ingles gave the same amount as us, but ours was in first,” Hoyt said. “There was a lady here working for Americorps, and she kept pushing to get it started. She asked Kiwanis to help. We told her we had the $20,000 Scott grant money and asked if that would help. She said if we could get it started, she thought the rest would come in.”
Town records show just the top donors. Waynesville pitched in $30,000 on the project; Clyde Savings gave $5,000 and Haywood County donated $3,000.
Eight businesses contributed $2,000 to have their store front facade placed in the playground — McDonalds, The Mountaineer, Mast General Store, United Community Bank, Cedar Hill Studio, Earthworks, LN Davis and Massie.
Wooden pickets to be placed around the perimeter of the playground were sold for $25 each — a contribution that allowed a child’s name to be listed on the picket.
Jane Harrison was part of the original effort spearheaded by Elaine Kuhl, who was running the volunteer center in the county at the time. Kuhl has since passed away, and Mountain Projects named the Volunteer Center in her honor.
Harrison recalled Kuhl’s vision for the playground.
“Elaine had been following the efforts of a company that designed playgrounds and recruited community volunteers to help build it,” Harrison said. “She saw it as a community service with a big boost for community participation. The Volunteer Center’s role was to get enough people to make it happen.”
Larry Leatherwood agreed to be the local coordinator for the playground, and spoke of the tremendous community spirit behind it.
“The thing I remember most is the number of community volunteers who helped out through the week it took us to do that,” Leatherwood said. “It was a tremendous effort by everybody.”
He said different people took on the responsibility for different aspects of the project, including the food prepared and served largely by local churches.
“I had never seen that many people work on something like that,” Leatherwood said. “They seemed to enjoy themselves. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun at the same time.”
News articles in The Mountaineer at the time show that a community college construction class helped out on the project, as did Police Chief Bill Hollingsed, who brought along officers and his family. There were three shifts scheduled daily from Wednesday morning through Sunday night where people could sign up to volunteer.
The company that designed the playground, Leathers and Associates of Ithaca, New York, worked with community residents, including the children, to design the playground, purchased supplies from local companies and helped supervise construction.
The company is still in business and often works with communities interested in upgrading their playgrounds, said Kyle Cundy, a project manager for Leathers & Associates.
She said trends in playgrounds change over the years. Today’s designs for the company have a higher level of visibility so parents can better see their children and address accessibility issues which allow children of all abilities to play side be side.
“We work with many of our previous clients on renovations and retrofits,” she explained. “The first step is an assessment visit, and then we put together a recommendation.”
It is impossible to discuss costs of a retrofit without the assessment, but Cundy explained the volunteer labor component is a large part of keeping the costs down.
Rhett Langston, director of the Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department, discussed the town’s recreation needs at a recent work session. The first step in tackling the town’s needs included preparing a master plan, a step necessary to receive grant funding.
That plan was recently approved, and the board of aldermen got a look at the top priorities as ranked by the town recreation staff and the recreation advisory board. The playground project was ranked second on a list of 22 projects estimated to cost about $10 million. The top priority was upgrading restroom facilities in the town’s major recreation park.
Langston said there are no immediate plans on how to proceed in chipping a way at the needs outlined in the plan — or to retrofit the playground so it will comply with the American with Disabilities Act and the latest universal playground requirements.
“When our summer camp staff takes kids over there, they must surround the park because you can’t see through it,” Langston said. “Society is not like it was 20 years ago. We wish we it didn’t have to be that way, but we hear horror stories about things that can happen. We want everybody to be safe.”
Currently, the most important factor is that the playground upgrade is part of the town’s long-range master plan, Langston said.
“There’s no specific plan on what to start first. For the work session, I had to come up with ways to ask if there was anything we should go to first and that’s why I turned to the advisory committee and the supervisors,” he explained. “They are the ones whose nose is closest to the grindstone and see day in and day out what’s going on.”
The biggest factor of all is money, Langston said. For instance, to upgrade the Kiwanis playground, the smaller playground behind the tennis court and the greenway area is estimated at $272,250, with about $150,000 of that to be used on the Kiwanis playground.
“Some of the things I’d like to see put in are pieces with sound to play songs, especially for children with autism, a xylophone and a whole scope of different things that will appeal to a lot of children,” Langston said. “It would be nice to make it so parents could see their children in all parts of the playground. I’m not saying all the playground needs to come out.”
Langston said it could be several years before the town gets to the point where upgrading the playground is possible. There will be plenty of research before that point, a plan in place to fund it and multiple public meetings to allow people to weigh in on the issue.
“Overwhelmingly, restrooms are at the top of list for everybody,” Langston said. “We need something new since we’ve torn down pool house bathrooms. We’re hoping to get brand new bathrooms there really soon.”
The town has applied for a grant available under the voter-approved NC Connect Bond grant, that pays 4 to 1 on projects for special needs children and veterans. The town’s grant is to build a universal playground in place of the small playground behind the tennis courts, a projected $120,000 project, Langston said. If the grant is approved, the town will be reimbursed for $90,000 of the cost.