Children and adults took a turn on playground equipment at Benson Park on Saturday.
But it wasn't the old, rickety and slightly scary playground that caught the attention of families – this playtime was sponsored by equipment companies hoping to find a new home at Omaha parks that need updating.
Saturday, city officials and community leaders unveiled a large-scale effort to renovate 15 aging city playgrounds by 2014.
Parents and children were invited to try out new equipment in order to recommend changes once the needed funds have been raised and matched.
Janelle Grieco, with the Benson Neighborhood Association, has four children under the age of 8 that love playing at neighborhood parks.
“These are such good parks, I would hate to see families not come to them because of unsafe or dangerous playground equipment,” she said.
On Saturday, neighborhood associations, corporate donors and community members were asked to raise $50,000 per park (for a total of $750,000) by the end of 2014 to fund the renovations.
City funds then will match up to $50,000 per playground for equipment and construction costs, and the city's Parks Department will oversee the design and construction. The parks foundation will also search for grants to help fund the renovations.
“We're talking lemonade stands and bake sales” in addition to corporate sponsors, said Debra Parsow, chairwoman of the Omaha Parks Foundation's playgrounds initiative committee.
Led by Parsow and Amber Miller, the foundation's executive director, the effort is designed to draw support from all parts of the community.
Playground Initiative 2012-2014
Goal: To raise $750,000 by 2014 - $50,000 for each city park, to be matched by the city
Parks to upgraded
• Grace Young
• Park East
• Cunningham Lake (west)
• Standing Bear Lake (north)
• Zorinsky Lake
• Spring Lake
• Ta Ha Zouka
How can I make a tax-deductible donation to the initiative?
Go to www.omahaparksfoundation.org to donate through the site's secure PayPal donation feature.
Mail a check to:
Omaha Parks Foundation Inc.
Attn: Amber Miller, Executive Director
1819 Farnam St., Suite 701
Omaha, NE 68183
Miller is also available to answer questions about the initiative. She can be reached by phone at 402-444-5947 or by email at email@example.com.
Established by Mayor Jim Suttle's administration in 2010, the foundation's primary goal is to collect private money to help fund parks programs.
Fundraising for playground renovations isn't unheard of, but it can take time.
It took two years for the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association and a group of Creighton University students to raise enough money to replace the outdated and unsafe Gifford Park playground. Suttle and acting Parks Director Brook Bench will join neighborhood residents for a ribbon-cutting at that new playground Sunday.
The 15 other parks that are part of the playground initiative are spread throughout the city — and include Hanscom Park in southeast Omaha, Elmwood Park in midtown, Ta Ha Zouka Park near Elkhorn and recreation areas at Zorinsky, Cunningham and Standing Bear Lakes. Elmwood's playground, for example, would be expanded and have a structure built to provide shade. Albright Park would receive new play equipment.
Those leading the initiative acknowledge the steep challenge of asking some neighborhoods to raise $50,000 for a new playground. Typically, parks officials said, playground renovations in Omaha cost from $65,000 to upward of $100,000.
City resources alone would not be enough to renovate that number of parks, Miller and Parsow said. Normally, available city capital improvement funds mean the city can renovate only a handful of playgrounds per year.
“The potential infusing of community monies could stretch that dedicated dollar to reach 15 City of Omaha playgrounds, countless communities and endless numbers of excited children,” Bench said in a statement.
Miller said roughly $150,000 worth of capital improvement funds were set aside for parks in 2012, meaning three city playgrounds could start on renovations this year if enough private money was secured.
To determine which playgrounds would be prioritized for repairs, parks staff assembled a list of roughly 60 playgrounds needing the most work. The top 15 made the list. In another three years, the next 15 parks on the list would move to the top.
“It's really neighbors helping neighbors,” Parsow said. “We'll get as many people involved as we possibly can. Whatever it takes, we'll do it.”
The effort is drawing praise and support from high-profile Omaha individuals and entities, including Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, the Douglas County Health Department and Children's Hospital & Medical Center.
Blue Cross, for example, will match the first $10,000 raised by five neighborhood associations in eastern Omaha that might have trouble raising the needed money. The Blue Cross money will supplement funds raised for Benson, Bemis, Hanscom, Schroeder/Vogel and Spring Lake Parks.
“We're hoping to give them a head start,” said Celann LaGreca, who helps lead Blue Cross Blue Shield's community involvement campaigns.
“We hope to see other businesses and organizations step forward and help,” LaGreca said. “There are other organizations in this community where this would make sense.”
The parks foundation will create separate accounts for each playground. Individuals can donate to a specific project or into a larger fund that's split among all the projects.
Extra money that comes in for certain projects can also be forwarded to playgrounds that can't reach the $50,000 goal.
“The downside is just the raising of the funds,” Parsow said. “That's why we hope to spur that community effort across the city, and not just have people thinking of their own area and their own playgrounds.”
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World-Herald staff writer Sam Womack contributed to this report.