Volunteers rebuild playground at Sacramento's McKinley Park

06/05/2013 12:00 AM

06/05/2013 7:44 AM

Hundreds turned out Tuesday at Sacramento's McKinley Park to rebuild the children's playground that was torched last July.

The city has relied on donations and an army of 2,000 volunteers to build the new structure.

"You really can get involved and get something done," said City Councilman Steve Cohn, whose district includes McKinley Park. "It takes a village."

City officials expect the new playground to be better than the old one. Instead of wood, crews are using a composite material that is more fire-resistant.

"This will be significantly less to maintain," said Dennis Day of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation. "It doesn't need to be painted over or sanded."

The effort to rebuild the playground was spearheaded by the community and facilitated by Cohn's office.

The members of the project's steering committee overwhelmingly voted to seek a community-built playground as opposed to a contractor-built project, Cohn said.

Leah Horner, 17, and Chelsea Saurer, 18, were the only teenagers on the committee. The recent St. Francis High School graduates grew up playing on the old structure and volunteered Tuesday.

"The playground was such a big part of my life," Horner said. "Now, we can leave a legacy for future generations."

According to the city, the new playground is valued at $1.5 million.

The amount takes into account in-kind donations of materials totaling $200,000, volunteer labor valued at $400,000 and $200,000 raised from the public. The city spent roughly $690,000 on the project, with half of that coming from the insurance payout after the fire.

Volunteers – including students, city staffers and local business owners – got their hands dirty, toiling underneath the hot sun in four-hour shifts. Some poured concrete while others shoveled dirt.

"The children didn't understand what happened," said Adriana Vasquez, 19, who spent the morning leveling dirt.

Curtis Cogdill and son Chase, 3, of River Park watched the construction through the makeshift chain-link fence.

When asked whether he was looking forward to the new playground, Chase shyly said, "Yeah," and nodded his head.

The design of the new playground aims to capture the history of Sacramento. A rendering shows the structure patterned on a trolley car, a steam engine and a paddle-wheel steamship. The entry arch evokes the former Alhambra Theatre.

"This is not a cookie-cutter design," said Dave Iannello, one of the owners of Ithaca, N.Y.'s Play by Design, the company hired to lead construction.

Volunteers will wrap up their work Sunday, but the playground won't open to the public until June 27.

Meanwhile, a study by the Trust for Public Land – a San Francisco parks advocacy group – ranked Sacramento third on a list of cities nationwide with the best parks. The study was based on a survey of parks departments for the 50 largest U.S. cities by population.

"The average size of a park in Sacramento is quite large. It's almost six acres," said Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land.

The study ranked the cities based on five factors: amount of park land, average size of a park, accessibility, budgets and the number of playgrounds.

Sharing the No. 3 spot with Sacramento were San Francisco and Boston. Last year, during the inaugural study, Sacramento placed No. 2.

"It's a pretty high-quality system," Harnik said of Sacramento's parks. "You have four playgrounds for every 10,000 residents. That's a lot of playgrounds."

ONLINE: Check out the Trust for Public Lands park survey at http://parkscore.tpl.org

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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