Play-area crew swings into action Volunteers construct facility at shelter

September 20, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

About 50 employees of a Columbia aerospace company spent the day at the playground -- one they were building for a Fort Meade homeless shelter.

The volunteers from TCOM L.P., from secretaries to vice presidents, yesterday began turning a 100-by-30 foot grassy lot at Sarah's House into a gravel-cushioned play area.

The project was part of United Way Day of Caring, an annual program that involves companies in volunteer work. After twice postponing the construction date because of rain, the volunteers had a day of blue skies, breezes and temperatures in the 70s.

"We really wanted to do something that had a more lasting impact for the community," said Eric Schwartz, manager of new products with TCOM and one of two team leaders on the playground project.

TCOM designs and builds large, tethered balloons called aerostats used for surveillance, communication and other purposes. Company employees called on some of that expertise to build a fun place to play.

The task of constructing two benches brought together engineers, secretaries and other workers, all trying to make sure the supporting posts and horizontal beams were perfectly level.

Secretary Betty McAlexander, accustomed to watching her husband and sons build decks and do home improvement projects, found herself on the work crew, wielding a sledge hammer to level the posts.

"The children, they're going to have many, many hours of pleasure out of this," the 64-year-old Mount Airy resident said. "It's going to last, be here for a while."

Engineer Bob Ferguson of Severna Park, who builds the ground systems that support the aerostats, was the foreman on the bench construction team.

"We're going to find out at the end of the day" if it all works," said Ferguson, 62. "It's fun working with everybody here."

With 35 to 50 children age 16 or younger living in temporary shelter or in transitional housing at Sarah's House at different times, the playground is a welcome addition, said director Mary Anne O'Donnell.

A day-care center on the grounds has a playground, but the TCOM playground, with equipment that can help develop coordination, will be more suitable for children age 6 and older, O'Donnell said.

Project organizers spent about three weeks gathering ideas from studying area playgrounds and drawing up plans for the parallel bars, balance beam, moving platform, tire-obstacle course and other elements, said Jerry Beck, a planner at TCOM and the other playground team leader.

Seventeen area companies and stores donated material, including 70 cubic yards of pea gravel for a 9-inch-deep cushion, 700 linear feet of 6-inch-by-6-inch boards, 36 tires, mulch, plants and concrete.

Volunteers plan to complete the playground today by putting in the gravel.

The Army provided a vehicle to move the gravel. The volunteers brought their own drills, hammers, saws, shovels and wheelbarrows.

"This is great," said O'Donnell. "We have never had someone come in and do a construction type of project. It's a huge commitment."

A commitment that Sarah's House resident Donna Tamm appreciates. Her one-bedroom, transitional-housing apartment overlooks the construction area, and her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter were awake early yesterday to watch the construction begin, said Tamm, 45.

Her daughter often wants to play at the day care center's playground at one end of the complex, while her son wants to ride his bike at the other end. She is looking forward to letting them play in one area near her building.

"They are just so happy, and so am I," said Tamm, who is taking classes to receive a medical assistant certificate at Anne Arundel Community College. "He can Rollerblade or ride his bike or play ball, and she can play on the playground, and I can sit on that bench and read a book."

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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