Volunteers bring life to Homestead playground

| Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 12:21 a.m.

What's it take to make a playground?

Judging from the scene outside Propel Homestead on Thursday, a good place to start is with volunteers.

The national nonprofit playground building association KaBOOM!, McDonald's USA, the charter school and the community itself churned out about 160 volunteer workers, who in turn cranked out a playground complete with swings, a slide, climbers and wooden picnic tables.

In addition to the volunteer capital, the project required a fair share of blue metal tubing, black panels, pressurized lumber, hardware and mulch.

Lots of mulch.

According to KaBOOM! project manager Alex Stackhouse, the formerly vacant lot along E. Tenth Avenue would consume about 136 cubic yards of wood chips by the time the playground was finished. In the morning, all that mulch was piled high on the street, while volunteers with shovels and wheelbarrows whittled away at it load by load.

Labor was divided into teams with leaders advising their crews on how to landscape and assemble the various pieces of equipment.

Local McDonald's restaurants provided a significant number of volunteers.

Michele Rice, who owns 15 area McDonald's including the one in the Waterfront, said employees from all of her restaurants were interested in participating. “They are excited.”

Lauren Lubash, who manages a McDonald's in Bridgeville and lives in Munhall, was part of the volunteer force.

“I couldn't wait,” Lubash said. Upon arriving at the work site, she said, “I saw people who knew me since I was a little kid.”

A team of volunteers from the nearby Propel Andrew Street High School were on the scene, helping out with landscaping.

“We planted a lot of flowers,” said Mautika Ely, 14, who is in her first year at the charter high school and was a student at Propel Homestead last year.

Her classmate Tytiona Williams, 15, was excited about the playground, too.

“I'm so excited that they're building one,” she said. Williams said she expects she'll visit the playground whenever she visits the school to tutor younger students. “We can play at it, too.”

The mission of KaBOOM! is to build playgrounds in areas that don't have enough recreation places for children. It's expected that the playground will serve more than 400 children.

Until now, Homestead Propel students had to walk to the borough's Frick Park up the street for outdoor recreation. Principal Frank Brettschneider said Propel bought the lot across the street from the school about six years ago with the idea of one day building a playground there.

About six weeks ago, a committee of students and parents from the school got together to design plans for a playground. Brettschneider said the new playground is based on the outcome of that planning session.

“The kids wanted a slide the most,” he said.

Students were inside while much of the work was going on outside the school, though they did take part in a ceremony around noon that involved placing decorative stones created by each homeroom in a landscape display.

Propel executive director Jeremy Resnick said another KaBOOM! playground installed at Propel Braddock Hills last year has proved to be a popular attraction.

“The kids use it during the school day and the community uses it on the weekends,” Resnick said.

This latest playground is the product of a McDonald's Foundation initiative to build 12 KaBOOM! playgrounds in a year.

Sandy Shuler, McDonald's vice president of operations for the Pittsburgh region, said the restaurant chain sees the program as a way to give back to the communities it serves. She said the Homestead playground is the last one McDonald's will help build this season, adding, “We've saved the best for last.”

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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