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Latrobe park lot offers tots a place to play

| Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, 9:03 p.m.
United Way Day of Caring volunteer Phil Goulding of Murrysville paints one of the benches that will be placed in Latrobe's new pre-school playground named John Street playground.The parks & recreation commission received a $40,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources last year to do the project, which involves specially-designed playground equipment, benches and a garden featuring plants that attract butterflies. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Latrobe's new pre-school playground, the John Street playground, was developed around an 89-year-old Norway maple tree that was planted in honor of the birth of a daughter by the Charles Karsack family, which owned the property in 1923. The parks & recreation commission received a $40,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources last year to do the project, which involves specially-designed playground equipment, benches and a garden featuring plants that attract butterflies. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

Preschoolers in the Latrobe area have a place to play that they can call their own — a tot lot across the street from Legion Keener Park.

Youngsters ages 2 to 5 have a safe place to play at the John Street Playground, a fenced-in recreational area at the corner of John Street and Memorial Boulevard, said Jeanne Ashley, executive director of the Latrobe-Unity Parks and Recreation Commission, which recently completed the playground.

“We didn't have anything for tots,” Ashley said.

A 45-by-30-foot section of the playground contains a child-sized seesaw with a garden design, a small climbing wall in the shape of a giraffe and a low-to-the-ground daisy and clover table, all surrounded by a bed of fresh wood chips that allow for a safe landing in the event of a tumble.

The playground is accessible for disabled children.

“I have not seen anything like this anywhere in the county,” Ashley said.

The recreation commission has installed two wooden benches and a garden with plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, Ashley said. Nine lilac bushes planted along a fence add a “nice buffer,” Ashley said.

“It's a natural environment. We're just looking to preserve green space,” Ashley said.

The nonprofit Latrobe Foundation Inc. acquired the 6,375-square-foot parcel in August 2007 from Michael S. and Katherine A. Conway for $65,000, according to filings at the Westmoreland County Recorder of Deeds. The foundation razed an old house on the property and fenced in the land.

The foundation purchased the property with the intention of giving youngsters at nearby Latrobe Elementary School the option of using the green space for recess and recreation time, according to James Okonak, vice president of the foundation.

“It's pretty unique for the community,” Okonak said.

Okonak said they want the park to offer an educational experience as well as a place to play.

Latrobe Elementary School has purchased environmental kits with lesson plans for the children. Kindergarten students and the day-care centers in the area will have access to the playground, Okonak said.

The recreation commission hopes to create a stamped concrete walkway that would offer the children a lesson about the environment, Ashley said.

To develop a tot lot, the parks and recreation commission last year received a $43,000 Growing Greener grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Ashley said.

Chris Novak, a spokeswoman for that department, did not respond to requests for comment.

Latrobe Council assisted in the project by approving a van-accessible parking space on John Street to comply with requirements that state-funded park projects have parking spaces designed for handicapped persons.

The dominant feature in the tot playground is an 89-year-old majestic giant Norway maple tree planted by Charles Karasack in 1923 in honor of the birth of Amelia Karasack, the family's first child, according to Charles' son, Earl Karasack, 81. The Unity man grew up in a two-story house on the site.

“We're really happy that it is going to be used for such a good cause,” Karasack said of the family homestead that had occupied the corner lot for decades.

Ashley said they want to place a plaque at the tree, recognizing the Karasack family.

“This is a basic playground now and we can give it some flair. We're extremely happy,” Ashley said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252, or at

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