City park gets new playground equipment with more improvements on the wayTwo bright yellow vinyl slides, each a different size and shape, and a yellow climbing ramp sprout from the sides of a massive piece of playground equipment at the city park across from St. Mary, Star of the Sea School in Astoria.

A loop ladder of sturdy red rings attached to a horizontal bar, a tree-shaped climbing apparatus, a mushroom climber, a crunch bar and a central platform bridge with two sets of stairs are also part of the park's gaudy new centerpiece.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Rob Spivey holds a bubble window piece in place.The playground at 14th Street and Grand Avenue has gone from run down to spectacular.

And there's much more equipment on the way, thanks to a partnership between the city and the parents' club at Star of the Sea, which uses the playground for recess. The city chipped in $10,000 from the capital improvement fund. The club raised the remaining $21,600 needed to refurbish the park. Improvements to the unnamed park were long overdue, according to Astoria Parks and Community Services Director Kevin Beck.

"It sorely needed to be done," he said.

Parents' club member Cindy Howe found the play structure on-line. "I was surfing the Web when I found this big, huge thing with stairs and ladders and slides. It was the end of the season and it was on sale for half-price - $9,000," Howe said. She said she told Beck, and he agreed to put up the money and store the equipment for a year.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Ed Ahlers, the senior maintainer for City of Astoria Parks, looks over assembly instructions for the new play equipment.With that hurdle behind them, parents' club members and Star of the Sea students went to work in earnest. The kids began a "Pennies for the Park" campaign, dropping their spare change into big empty water bottles stationed prominently in school hallways. That effort raised $300 a month while school was in session, Howe said.

The parents club started their campaign by contributing $8,000 that had accumulated in a savings account from past fund-raisers. Then they put on more fund-raisers - an auction, a harvest festival, a candy sale and others. When Howe sent out a letter asking for help from the community, donations came in from the Sam Johnson Foundation, the Coast Guard Spouses Association, the Astoria American Legion, the Astoria Lions Club, the Stemper family and many other organizations and individuals, she said.

Thanks to a grant application, written by former principal Diane Ramsperger, the Ford Foundation contributed another $2,500. But that still wasn't quite enough, so the parents' club raised the rest, Howe said, and by the end of the 2003-2004 school year, all of the money was in hand.

So, when school started Monday at Star of the Sea, students were thrilled with what they saw, even though the new play structure wasn't ready for use yet and was surrounded by a net-like fence of orange plastic.

Star of the Sea's new principal, Terry Campbell, sounded as excited about the play structure as the kids. "It's wonderful, spectacular," he said. "I remember in fourth grade when monkey bars went in at my school," Campbell reminisced. "If it had been food, I would have been drooling." He said opportunities to play and have fun are part of a good education and physical development.

Campbell emphasized that the playground is for the entire community and features equipment suitable for all ages. "It's a wonderful way for us to collaborate with the city," Campbell said.

Beck agreed, saying the park is used by community members, day care groups and others in the neighborhood as well as by students at Star of the Sea. "It works out well for everybody," Beck said.

The new equipment meets modern safety and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, Howe said. Even the wood chips used on the playground are made of a specially blended cedar bark that does not splinter. And the chips are uniform in size so a wheel chair can roll over them. Howe said the special chips cost about $6,000.

"Because it's a city park, we wanted to cover all the bases," Howe explained.

Fifteen inches of wood chips will be placed on top of barrier fabric around the play structure said Dick Magathan, parks department supervisor. Students from Tongue Point Job Corps will build a cement curb around it on two sides, he said. A walkway and a basketball court will form the other two sides. Until the concrete work is done, there's nothing to hold the wood chips, Magathan said, explaining why kids can't play on it right away.

Wood chips will be placed around all of the other playground equipment as well. And Magathan said there's lots more equipment on the way, including two different swing sets, one for babies and another for older kids; a dome-shaped climber; a red, white and blue merry-go-round called a "Whirl;" a new half-court for basketball; and a child-sized plastic rock-climbing wall.

"The climbing wall is really neat," said Magathan. "There's nothing like it in town."

Beck said this is the fourth playground to be renovated in the past five years, thanks to community involvement. "Our original philosophy was to pinpoint neighborhood parks that needed help most," Beck said, "but what actually happened was we went where neighbors were able to help."

Howe said the school will hold a contest to name the park, which has never had a real name before, other than "14th and Grand." A list of the top names will be presented to the Astoria City Council, in the hope that members will approve one of them. After that, Howe said, the parents' club hopes to see the park re-dedicated and a sign installed, thanking donors.


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