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Whitehall park prepares for KaBOOM! project

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

An aged, gray jungle gym at Wallace Park in Whitehall will be transformed into a vibrantly colored play space — complete with three side-by-side slides and a boulder climbing rock.

All that's needed are nearly 250 volunteers, six hours and some good weather Sept. 6.

“It will be a whirlwind,” said Kathleen Keating, project manager with the nonprofit Economic Development South.

Nonprofit South Hills Interfaith Ministries, or SHIM, based in Bethel Park, and Brentwood-based Economic Development South have partnered with Whitehall Borough to construct a KaBOOM! playground — in which the national nonprofit organizes a community to build a playground in a day — at the Whitehall park, nestled in the rear of the Whitehall Place housing complex. The project is funded through the Jefferson Regional Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.

The playground's design, which was finalized late last week based on community input, was to be brought before Whitehall Council on Wednesday night for a vote, after the South Hills Record's deadline.

Whitehall Borough owns the property and will take ownership of the playground once it is built, said SHIM executive director Jim Guffey.

The new playground will provide added amenities for young and older youths. That includes toddler-fitted swings and play areas for both younger and older children, Guffey said.

“It's going to be colorful,” Guffey said. “If you go down there right now, it's a drab gray.”

Families involved in local athletic groups that use the nearby ball fields also frequent the play area. Whitehall has had a large population of refugees dating back to the 1990s, many of whom live in the complex. The refugees come mostly from Bhutan and Myanmar, formerly Burma, while others have moved here from Burundi, Sudan, Turkey, Bosnia, Russia and Iraq.

The latest U.S. Census showed that 13 percent of Whitehall's nearly 14,000 residents speak a language other than English at home.

“It's going to serve a big melting pot,” Keating said.

About 40 youths from the complex attended a July 16 design day at the park.

Each sketched ideas for his or her dream playground, Keating said. They wanted a trampoline, soccer field and treehouse.

“Kids are kids,” Keating said. “What the parents want is a safe place for their kids to play.”

Their ideas were a bit extravagant, but, organizers said, they were able to get “tree-like caps” for the play space.

To make it all happen, volunteers are needed for both the “Build Day” on Sept. 6 and the preparation day Sept. 4.

“We take anybody,” Keating said.

The hope is that people volunteering for the project will learn more about the “vibrant community that exists” in Whitehall, Guffey said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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