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Hempfield school board might sell the 'playground that wouldn't die'

| Thursday, July 18, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Brandon Greenwalt grew up around the playground on Wendel Road in Hempfield Township.

His children have played there and he wants to ensure that his grandchildren have the same opportunity.

But the fate of the four acres that used to encompass the former playground is up in the air.

Ten years ago, swings, monkey bars, merry-go-rounds and other equipment were removed by the township, leaving only basketball courts and fields for kids to play pickup baseball and football games and other activities, according to residents.

Decades ago, the Stahl family of Hempfield Township relinquished the property to the Hempfield Area School District.

But now that property is listed for sale by Northwood Realty Co. with an asking price of $70,000.

“This is where all the kids come to meet to have recreation time. .... They play football, basketball, fly kites,” said Greenwalt, 41. “It's our little recreation center for the community. To sell means we're having a huge, huge piece of our lives taken away. It's like everybody's backyard.”

Jeremy Boby, whose family has lived in the Wendel area dating back to the coal mines, said the play equipment was removed years ago by the township because it was a lawsuit risk. But kids kept coming.

The shelter at the playground was demolished. The kids kept coming.

“It was like the playground that wouldn't die,” said Boby, 42.

School district Superintendent Andrew Leopold said no decision has been made on the future of the playground site.

“We had the opportunity to have it appraised,” said Leopold. “At this juncture, no action has been taken on that property.”

Residents have attended meetings to address the school board about the issue, to no avail, they said.

According to resident Ron Copeland, he is having a difficult time getting his voice to be heard.

“It's a beautiful property. We're not asking for money, we just want to keep it,” he said. “With drugs, obesity and vandalism, we have to have something for these kids, something to keep them from getting into something else.”

Boby said many kids walk to the Wendel site because they have nowhere else to go.

He said he fears that a decision has already been made by the school board.

“I've tried to engage them in conversation and they won't even do that,” Boby said.

The school board has decided to close one elementary school as it contends with rising costs, including those for health insurance for employees and for pension contributions.

Michele Stewardson is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.