Playground to sprout from kids' imagination

April 08, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Dennis Wille is a playground designer attuned to listening to children envision where they want to play. Then, he puts their concepts on paper.

When he visits Baltimore from Ithaca, N.Y., tomorrow, his blank slate will be an acre on the western edge of the former Memorial Stadium, the 30-acre site on East 33rd Street being cleared for development.

The YMCA of Central Maryland, planning a $10.2 million recreational facility on part of the site, agreed to extend an acre to the neighborhood as a goodwill gesture, officials said.

The offer fit the hopes of Waverly activist Debra L. Evans, who had started a search for a community playground three years ago.

Through a friend who had noticed a playground in Lancaster, Pa., designed by Wille's company, Leathers & Associates, Evans contacted Wille. She invited him to apply their techniques, shown in playgrounds across the nation, to the vacant acre in a single "design day."

"First, I talk to the users and ask them to imagine their perfect playground," Wille said last week. "If they're young, they close their eyes. I gather their ideas, and that takes pages and pages."

After viewing the site, Wille plans to meet with pupils from nearby Waverly and Montebello elementary schools. By lunchtime, he will have created a blueprint. In the afternoon, he will work with a children's committee to draw the playground's elements. Then, his project should be ready for a larger audience.

At 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, Wille's draft design will be presented to the community for opinions at a meeting at Montebello Elementary School, 2040 E. 32nd St.

Evans estimated that more than a year would pass between the design and playground construction, which she expects will involve 2,000 volunteers. She and others hope to raise at least $160,000 by the build date -- September 2003.

Establishing a neighborhood-based nonprofit group dedicated to the playground is the next step, she said.

"We knew we needed to put our arms around something to bring the community together, take ownership and celebrate the birth of the new stadium site," Evans said.

The daylong design technique, Wille said, is "the community, grass-roots level on up." And the result at the end of the day, he added, is more than a playground -- it's an "expanded belief" in an inclusive process.

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