Playground nears completion

Volunteers help build Harford complex in memory of children lost to illness or accident


Sharon Perfetti needs a breather.

For 12 straight days, she has overseen hundreds of volunteers as they have poured into a Fallston cornfield to help take power saws to plywood, transport wheelbarrows of gravel and hammer nails.

The groundwork for Annie's Playground, named for Annie M. Cumpston, a 6-year-old girl who was killed two years ago in a hit-and-run accident, started long before.

With the project's deadline looming, Perfetti stole a moment in the shade. Nobody said building one of the largest playgrounds in the state from scratch would be easy.

"It's going to be done," she said. "It's going to be done."

Today is the last day to help work on the 60,000-square-foot playground in Harford County, which was funded by a foundation named after Annie and built almost entirely by volunteers to remember area children who were killed by illness or accident.

"These kids, for whatever reason, weren't given an opportunity to leave a legacy," said Perfetti, a close friend of Annie's parents, Megan and Tom Cumpston of Jarrettsville. "Whether it's naming a brick or a part of the playground, it gives them that opportunity that they lost when they were taken away from us."

Annie was leaving a circus in Baltimore with her family on March 22, 2003, when she was struck in a crosswalk by a car driven by a man who fled the scene. The man eventually pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Yesterday, volunteers wearing name tags buzzed around the 200-acre former site of Edgeley Grove farm off the U.S. 1 bypass. Participants have included friends and family members, as well as minimum-security inmates from the Harford County Detention Center and Orioles broadcaster Jim Hunter, a neighbor of Perfetti's who helped organize a benefit concert. Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora, a father of six, sponsored a slide for $3,500.

"I was overwhelmed at what I saw," said Hunter, who helped out Thursday.

The project also has drawn the families of other children who were killed. Alex Sandmeier, a child who wears a neck brace as a result of a car accident that killed his brother Devon, played as his parents, Michael and Heather, took a lunch break. They raised $9,000 for a slide in Devon's memory and brought dozens of volunteers.

Alex "really wants to slide on Devon's slide," Heather Sandmeier said.

About $400,000 has been raised for the project, but organizers say they often fell short of volunteers. Yesterday's gathering left them hopeful that they will be able to finish today, leaving only small tasks to be wrapped up, but that could depend on today's turnout.

"It could be tight," said Doug Hanauer, a construction consultant for Ithaca, N.Y.-based Leathers & Associates, which is supervising the project.

The playground, which could be open at the end of the month, will be the first part of a county development that will include an amphitheater, a walking trail and soccer fields.

The playground includes a small amphitheater, a puppet theater, a half-size baseball field donated by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, a rock-climbing wall and a treehouse designed by Annie's sisters.

"It's a wonderful thing, but she's not here to enjoy it," Megan Cumpston said of her daughter. "I know she's beaming up there, with that toothless smile."

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