Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:17 PM on Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New playground starts with ideas


McKibben Jackinsky

Isaiah Nevak, 9; Ethan Pitzman, 9; Hunter Henley, 11; and Isaac Swenson, 11; students at West Homer Elementary School, join in the fun at the Homer Playground Project picnic at Karen Hornaday Park on Saturday.

Asked what they would like to see added to Karen Hornaday Park playground, youngsters let their imaginations run wild. Playground forts. Water slides. An amusement park. All that and more fill survey pages distributed by HoPP, Homer Playground Project, to Homer area schools, as well as adult members of the community.

The information has been compiled by Deb Cox and Miranda Weiss, HoPP co-chairs, and John Dean of Play By Design, to create a vision for the playground's future. Play By Design of Ithaca, N.Y., works with communities to create custom-made and community-built playgrounds. Dean has been instrumental in the design of several Alaska playgrounds, including one in Talkeetna.

Meeting with students at West Homer Elementary School Friday morning, Dean had an opportunity to hear youngsters describe their dream playground.

"Are you going to help build this?" said Dean.

"Yes," was the shouted reply.

"Are your parents gong to help build this?" he asked.

"Yes," came the students' response.

Adult ideas were the focus of a reception Friday evening at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center with city council and borough assembly members, legislators and individuals who work with kids. Dean's Homer visit culminated with a New Playground Kick-Off Party at the Karen Hornaday Park on Saturday.

Displays and notebooks of sketches and suggestions from children were available for viewing, with more collected during the day. As the ideas piled up, Dean incorporated them into a draft playground design. Around him were the sounds of youngsters enjoying the existing playground and participating in various activities provided at the party. Families gathered around tables to enjoy the food that was provided. Music by Rufaro, a marimba band of young musicians, offered entertainment. Adults filled out volunteer forms, made donations and purchased T-shirts with the HoPP logo created by Tia Pietsch.

"I really felt that between the Friday night event and Saturday, there's a huge cross-section of the community that is really excited about this," said Weiss. "Obviously, there's lots of parents, but not just parents. People get that this is a community improvement project. It's primarily for kids, but it's like a first step in improving the park, making it a better place for everyone."

Cox said Dean expressed a positive reaction to the level of local support.

"He said it most definitely appeared to be a great success to him and something that would lend itself to a community-built process," said Cox. "We were thrilled to have him here, happy with how earnest he was and believe he's really listening to people."

With a $200,000 budget in mind, the next step will be finalizing the playground design over the next couple of months.

"And then, once the design is fairly well nailed down, we'll get a materials list and we can start either purchasing materials or getting materials donated and working with individual artists also wanting to do something for the playground," said Cox.

Then will come setting the build date.

"We've been talking to people about it already, construction contractors and dirt guys that talked to (Dean), asking them when would be the best time," said Cox. "We understand that during the summers here in Homer, everybody's busy."

Fundraising activities are being planned, beginning with HoPP's "ask campaign."

"That's our main push right now, asking people who want to support the project to make a gift," said Weiss.

A garage sale to be held in the Homer High School commons is being coordinated. A grant writer is helping identify fundraising sources. Similar to a fundraising activity for Talkeetna's Wild Woods Park and the Seward Playground, HoPP will sell fence pickets for the Karen Hornaday Park playground that bear the names of donors. In Seward, that effort alone raised $50,000.

"It's a way for people to become a permanent part of the playground," said Weiss.

Pickets will be sold after the design is finalized. Cox already is planning on making her children's names a lasting part of the Karen Hornaday Park playground.

"I have a 4- and a 2-year old and I'm excited to have their names on it. There's some sort of ownership there," said Cox.

For more about HoPP, visit www.homerplaygroundproject.org.