For pupils, a place to play, with no splinters

Volunteers build school's kid-designed playground

November 04, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Pimlico Elementary School once had nothing but an empty lot for kids to play in. Swing sets and monkey bars came later -- only to be done in by enthusiastic use and vandals.

Yesterday, kids in the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood got a playground to covet.

More than 200 volunteers swept into the school's back yard and erected shiny red, yellow and blue equipment -- slides, ladders, even a steering wheel for flights of fancy. They shoveled a mountain of mulch. They built benches, planters and picnic tables. They painted a map of the United States on concrete for a little learning disguised as recess.

And they did it all in 5 1/2 hours.

"This is so great" said Assistant Principal Doretha Galloway, her hands dirty from planting multicolored pansies.

Pimlico's old playground, built 13 years ago, was removed several weeks ago to make way for the new equipment. Some pupils were sorry to see it go. Most weren't. The tire-and-wood contraption gave them splinters. No one could use the slide because someone had destroyed the ladder.

"It was crazy," said Steven Ransom, 10, a fifth-grader at Pimlico.

Ten-year-old Jonathan Hannah, watching the flurry of lifting and ratcheting that was turning pieces of metal into a place for him to play, said, "That's a big improvement."

Now children have two slides -- with ladders -- to choose from. And a ramp designed like a miniature rock-climbing wall. And monkey bars that look like red hangers.

That's what pupils wanted: Sixty kids had shared their vision of brightly colored fun with KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization based in Washington that builds playgrounds across the nation.

KaBOOM! helped coordinate the project with city officials and Home Depot, which donated $15,000 in cash and materials to the project. Pimlico is the 65th playground KaBOOM! and the home improvement chain have worked on together.

"It happens in a day, which I think is the neatest thing about it," said Jennie Connor, project manager for KaBOOM! "People get instant gratification. At the end of the day, they can say, `I did that.'"

Dozens of Home Depot employees drove into Pimlico yesterday on their own time to see the work through, along with people in the drug-abuse recovery program I Can't We Can, who showed up to make sure Pimlico kids have something fun to do to keep them out of trouble.

Others volunteered because they once went to school here.

Alex Campbell, 39, heaved a rock-climbing ramp up to another worker and recalled the different incarnations of Pimlico's playground since his childhood. Nothing compares to this one, in his opinion. It's bigger -- and sturdier.

"This will last," he said. "I defy any child to destroy this."

Yesterday, with the work done and the concrete drying, pupils sat impatiently, dreaming of Monday morning exploits.

David Dorsey, 8, couldn't wait that long. He took a few test swings on the monkey bars. "I don't know the words," he said, "but it's better than fun."

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