Stadium Playground Due To Rise From The Ashes

2,000 Worked To Restore Site Destroyed By Fire Last Year

July 02, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

A community playground at the former site of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium will officially rise from its ashes today with the official reopening of a neighborhood sanctuary that burned to the ground just 10 months ago.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for 10 a.m., with a community celebration, featuring booths, games and a block-party atmosphere, to begin at 5:30 p.m.

An estimated 2,000 volunteers began work on the reconstructed playground May 5, determined to once again give neighborhood children a safe place to play. The original playground had opened in 2005, after some 3,000 volunteers spent nine days building it.

"Our whole mission is to promote a healthy mind, body and spirit for all," said Sara Milstein, spokeswoman for the Y of Central Maryland, which oversees the playground. "A playground is central to that. A playground is part of a healthy childhood experience. It's more than just playing. You also learn a lot - conflict resolutions, all kinds of things happen on a playground that go beyond the immediate sheer joy of sliding down a swing."

The original 1,700-foot playground was built by volunteers who came to Baltimore from as far away as North Carolina and New York. Its $350,000 cost was raised through fish fries and community dinners, and through the efforts of local schoolchildren.

Y officials estimate the facility was used by between 50 and 100 children daily.

The fire that destroyed the original playground was reported about 2:20 p.m. Sept. 10; as children walked home from nearby schools, they could see smoke rising from the charred embers. Fire Department investigators suspect arson, although the case remains open.

The new playground, with most of its replacement cost covered by the Y's insurance policy, closely resembles the original, with a few key differences. Flame-retardant materials were used in much of the reconstruction, and a poured-in-place cover replaces the wood chips that were originally spread over the surface.

The entire Y property is monitored by security cameras, and the area is patrolled by private security 24 hours a day. State officials have promised to install additional high-resolution security cameras, Y officials said.

Some might have despaired after the fire, and indeed, when some 200 neighborhood residents gathered at the site the next night, many weren't sure what would happen. But officials of the Y of Central Maryland, which oversees the facility, were confident the same volunteer spirit that built the playground in the first place would come through again.

"Having witnessed that spirit and been a part of that once, it made it possible to imagine that it could happen again," Milstein said. "It's an amazing feat, to have so many volunteers come together, to serve such a dedicated and active community."

The playground is located alongside the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Family Center Y at Stadium Place, 900 E. 33rd St. Several local officials, including U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and state Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, are expected to speak at the morning ceremony.

If you go

The community playground ribbon-cutting starts 10 a.m. at the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Family Center Y at Stadium Place, 900 E. 33rd St. A community celebration follows at 5:30 p.m. Free.

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