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  • Randall Benton /

    Designer Dennis Wille listens to suggestions from nine-year-old Ella Christiansen at Caleb Greenwood Elementary. Christiansen holds her drawing of new playground equipment she would like to see at McKinley Park, where a third of the playground was destroyed in a July arson fire.

  • Randall Benton /

    Nico Hales, center, and other first-graders at Caleb Greenwood respond to Dennis Wille's quest for input from experienced playground users. "I think it's wonderful that the kids ... feel like they have a voice," said Michael Saeltzer of East Sac Give Back.

  • Randall Benton /

    Students at Caleb Greenwood Elementary have the attention of playground designer Dennis Wille as they offer ideas for the new play structure at McKinley Park. The final playground design is expected to be ready in two weeks.

Schoolkids' ideas help shape new playground at east Sac park

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Tire swings, monkey bars, trampolines.

Kindergartners at Caleb Greenwood Elementary in east Sacramento called out their demands when Dennis Wille of Play by Design, a playground design company, asked students to imagine the perfect playground.

First-grader Jameson Damiano described a jungle gym with tall towers. His classmate Talen Field gave a fist pump when Wille humored his idea for an in-line skate playground.

Wille and volunteers visited six Sacramento elementary schools last week, distributing "I Helped Design McKinley Playground" stickers and taking design suggestions for a rebuilt McKinley Park play structure.

An arsonist destroyed a third of the park's playground on July 21.

"I think it's wonderful that the kids who've seen the playground get burned down get to be in the process of sharing ideas and feel like they have a voice," said Michael Saeltzer, who said his East Sac Give Back group raised $5,000 in a matter of weeks after the playground fire.

The city hired Play by Design, an Ithaca, N.Y., firm that specializes in community-based playground construction, at a $50,000 cost, according to J.P. Tindell, manager of the city's Park Planning and Development Services division.

A City Council report Nov. 13 budgeted $686,379 for the rebuilding of the McKinley Park playground, due for completion in June. But the cost can vary on the final design and materials required, said Councilman Steve Cohn, whose district includes McKinley Park.

Tindell said regular playgrounds usually cost half that much, but those projects are smaller and not as elaborate as the one planned for McKinley Park.

"This is intended to be a playground that attracts people from the entire region, not just a neighborhood park," she said.

Play by Design's website describes its seven-step construction process that emphasizes community collaboration through committee-building, volunteer labor and a crowd-sourced design process that draws from the kids who will use the structure.

The old McKinley Park playground was built in 1994 with donations, city funds and 2,500 volunteers.

"Through this process, people get much more than a playground," Wille said. "We can really focus on the specific needs of a school or a community."

The city previously worked with Play by Design and its community park approach for the Natomas Park playground, which burned down twice and was rebuilt on a new location in 2008, Tindell said.

That project cost $1 million, she said.

The city expects about one-sixth of the rebuild project's budget to come from fundraising and donations.

Neighborhood groups like East Sac Give Back started fundraising through social media shortly after the July fire, and almost $110,000 has been raised, according to parks officials.

Residents and businesses also have contributed in-kind donations of time and materials. American Technologies Inc. volunteered to demolish the burned remains of the play structure for free in August, saving $7,500.

"Once we saw what had happened and heard it would be a community build, I felt there was no choice other than to participate," said Jeff Shields, an east Sacramento resident and member of the Rebuild McKinley Park steering committee. He said his company, Shields Electric, will donate materials and man hours to the effort.

The final playground design should be complete in two weeks, Shields said, and the steering committee will then focus on gathering construction resources. The rebuild committee hopes to have 400 volunteers working and providing food and child care.

Construction is expected to last six days and finish June 9.

People interested in donating or volunteering can visit

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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