A Playground Designed By The Children, Built By The Community

March 19, 1995|By Sandra Ormsbee | Sandra Ormsbee,Contributing Writer

Students at six Bel Air-area elementary schools will have visions of playgrounds dancing in their heads this week as they prepare to submit ideas for the Rockfield Creative Playground.

Wednesday, the students will participate in Design Day, the first step toward building the Rockfield Creative Playground, a 20,000-square-foot structure to be constructed in November at a park adjacent to Bel Air's John Carroll High School.

On Design Day, students from Bel Air Elementary, Fountain Green Elementary, Harford Day, Homestead-Wakefield Elementary, Ring Factory Elementary and St. Margaret's schools will give architect Dennis Wille of Leathers & Associates Inc. of Ithaca, N.Y., ideas for the $75,000 project.

"The children will be telling the architect what they want on their playground, whatever they want within realistic terms," said Elaine Orbino, public relations chairwoman for the project.

"What is unique is, not only is it community-built, but it's also community-funded," Mrs. Orbino said.

After the day's brainstorming sessions, Mr. Wille will draw a preliminary sketch based on the most popular suggestions. It will be presented to the children and their parents during Design Night, which will be at 7 p.m. at John Carroll High School.

In addition to the unveiling of the sketch, volunteers will be recruited to help construct the playground, which will be built in five days under the supervision of Mr. Wille and a foreman.

"It's a very organized project," said Nancy Castaldo, general coordinator of the project. "We need a lot of people who know what they're doing."

How does a playground that uses three tractor-trailers full of wood get built in five days by inexperienced residents?

"It's a feat every time we do it," said Barry Segal, vice president of Leathers & Associates.

"We really have faith in the community. If they show up, we have the systems in place to put even the most unskilled to work," he said. "People laugh when I say this, but it will probably be the best experience of their lives."

Mrs. Orbino, 36, of Bel Air agreed. "It's a great lesson for the kids to be involved in. It shows how a community can come together and make this come to life," she said.

Although Design Day is limited to six Bel Air schools, she said, she hopes that "other parents outside Bel Air will come and see how they can participate in this."

Construction will begin at 8 a.m. daily and continue until 9 p.m. Food and child care will be provided at the site.

The $75,000 will buy a playground that is far from ordinary. From a distance, it will look like a large wooden castle. A closer look will reveal interconnected mazes, tunnels, bridges, ramps and turrets.

"They are so distinct, exciting to the eye and inviting for children," Mr. Segal said. "That's why they are so popular."

Leathers & Associates has supervised the design and construction of more than 1,000 such playgrounds for communities in the United States, Canada, Australia and Israel.

The Rockfield Creative Playground will be the seventh playground in Maryland designed by the company. Others are in Temple Hills, New Carrollton and Chestertown in Prince George's County, Potomac in Montgomery County, Annapolis and Pasadena.

"You'll see the typical swings and slides," said Mrs. Castaldo, 35, of Bel Air, "but there are other mazes, ramps, towers and obstacles, too."

For a $25 donation, residents can have their names engraved on a picket fence surrounding the playground.

A hoedown to raise money for the playground will be held in August at the Equestrian Center in Bel Air. Money from raffle tickets and admission to the event -- which will include dancing, a petting zoo, carnival attractions, face painting and food -- will go toward the project.

Students from the six elementary schools are competing in a logo design contest. One logo will be selected for T-shirts, which will be sold until the last day of construction. Runners-up will have their logos used for posters, banners and thank-you notes.

McDonald's, the only business involved in the project, will give each child participating in the contest a food certificate.

In addition, local businesses are making donations. The committee is looking for contributions of construction supplies, such as sandpaper, soap, work gloves and nail aprons, and food to feed volunteers.

The playground, which will be constructed with weather-sealed telephone poles and pressure-treated wood, will be tailored for handicapped children.

Interconnected ramps will enable children in wheelchairs to use the playground, Mrs. Castaldo said.

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