(Talk of the Town photos by Jennifer Zartman Romano)
City parks director Mark Green shows an artist's rendering of the new Every Kids Dreamland that will be built where the former wooden Kids Dreamland playground was. Below, a closer look reveals the towers, ramps, slides and swings that will set the backdrop for countless future great adventures for young ones in Whitley County and beyond who might travel here to visit the new, universally accessible playground.
By Jennifer Zartman Romano
Driving past the site of the former wooden, community-built Kids Dreamland, it looks as though nothing was ever there. No soaring towers for imaginations, no swings to pass the warm spring days.
Last week, crews from WJ Carey donated their time and equipment to raze the structure, recently deemed too dangerous to continue standing.
"It was great and fun and kids loved it, but it was very high and it was on pea gravel," said city parks director Mark Green. "We had some major (safety) violations there. I was urged to take it out about five years ago."
And while the effort to raise the approximately $159,000 to build a new park on the spot had not yet reached the fundraising goal, Green felt it was necessary to take the old park down before anyone was seriously injured.
On Tuesday evening, however, Green learned that a local enterprise would make the final installment on the fundraiser, enabling the new project to move forward.
"We were $25,000 short," Green said. "I was able to talk to SDI (Steel Dynamics) last week and in talking to them, they told me they were going to finish off our fundraising," Green added, confirming that SDI would contribute the final $25,000 needed to begin creating the new playground, Every Kids Dreamland.
"I want to thank them," Green said, beaming. "That's a huge donation and a lot of money to give to the parks."
Green said with funds now raised, construction for the new park will begin in May and expected to go relatively quickly, ensuring that by summertime, youngsters will have a new place to play.
A couple of weeks ago, Green presented information about Every Kids Dreamland at the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce's Whitley County EXPO.
"The EXPO was an eye-opening experience to find out how many people were interested in this project," Green said. Green shared a story about a woman who approached him to talk about Kids Dreamland and her concerns about it being torn down and replaced. The woman and Green were both moved emotionally when, a few minutes later, a family approached Green and shared their excitement that at last the community would have a park that could be enjoyed by their whole family -- including a disabled family member. Green said it was situations like this that make it an emotional project.
"It's a relief that the fundraising is now over and it's nice for people to know we are going to replace it," Green added.
Green applauded Maddie Hinen, a local teen, who got the ball rolling on this project and to the Whitley County Community Foundation, Dekko Foundation, Anthony Wayne Services and many others who had a role in the fundraising effort. The Whitley County Dazzlers hosted two performances to help raise funds for the park and local school children contributed their pennies for the project.
"W are really excited that we're going to be able to get this up this summer and that there isn't much of a lapse between Kids Dreamland and Every Kids Dreamland," said Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel. Daniel said he hopes to find a way to recognize the many, many people involved in bringing the new playground to the forefront.
"This is another amenity that sets Columbia City apart from many other small communities in Indiana. It's something we can boast for quality of life," Daniel said. "It's going to be the pride of our community."
The new Every Kids Dreamland will be similar in size to what was there originally, with new towers, ramps, slides and swings. The new structure will be more durable and easier to care for, Green shared.