After a year of hard work, McKinley Park's playground is out of the ashes.
Hundreds of kids and parents celebrated the accomplishment this evening at McKinley Park with face painting, balloon animals, food trucks and live music.
The grand opening marked relief, pride and happiness for east Sacramento residents who spent hundreds of hours over the past year planning for the rebirth of the playground that someone deliberately burned down on July 28, 2012.
"The community response has been astounding, the playground is bigger and better than any of us dared dream it could be," said Kathy Schulz,40, coordinator at the Rebuild McKinley Steering Committee. "There were a lot of ideas and they're all there."
She described the playground's new amenities:
The playground's rubberized surface requires less maintenance.
It has elements inspired by local history, including a train, paddlewheel steamboat, Tower Bridge and trolley.
It is accessible to children and adults with disabilities so that all children can play in it. For example, there's a swing called the Big O, for kids who do not have enough muscle strength to support them.
The playground's design is intended to provide better visibility for parents keeping track of their children.
Security cameras and lighting and fencing with limited access are to increase the children's safety.
City Councilman Steve Cohn, who represents east Sacramento, said the latest rebuild has been more ambitious than previous rebuilds at the park.
"A year ago this week the fire happened. It was a very down moment," Cohn said before the grand opening. "People were very sad, but then within just a few days after the fire, that sadness turned to anger, then to a real gritty determination to rebuild it."
Within hours after the fire last year, there was a Facebook page for parents to share their ideas for the new playground, and a place to direct donations.
Community meetings were held, and 1,000 elementary schoolchildren were interviewed. Schulz said early on "the overwhelming consensus was to rebuild it."
The new park is valued up to $1.5 million. More than $700,000 was raised in in-kind contributions for materials and labor.
The rebuild effort involved more than 2,000 volunteers, and in early June, they worked for a solid week in triple-digit temperatures.
Schulz said the new playground is a place kids can explore, play freely and use their imaginations.
"For some kids, those old towers that were there was a castle, for other kids the whole structure was a boat," Schulz said. "My son thought it was a giant rocket ship. So I wanted to make sure the kids in Sacramento had something where they could continue to let their bodies and minds run wild."
Cohn's children also have a connection with the park.
"It's a great feeling of satisfaction of a job well done," Cohn said. "On a personal level, because my children's handprints were on the wall of the (playground) built 19 years ago, and my son was able to take part in the build this year."
Call the Bee's Kristopher Rivera at (916) 321-1101. Follow him on Twitter @kgrivera.