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Hundreds help to rebuild Latrobe playground damaged by arson

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 11:09 a.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Latrobe residents Liz Elkin (left), a Kennametal employee, and her sister, Emily Elkin, pitch in on Tuesday, April 24, 2013, with the rebuilding of Playland in Latrobe.

An army of volunteers swarmed the rear section of Legion Keener Park in Latrobe all day Tuesday, cutting lumber, staining boards, setting 20-foot-tall posts and building the framework that will become Playland II, an expansive playground that will have a touch of Mister Rogers.

“It's taken months and months to prepare, but it is coming together,” said Jeanne Ashley, executive director of the Latrobe-Unity Parks & Recreation Commission, which is overseeing the rebuilding project.

The new Playland will have a trolley, like the one featured in Latrobe native Fred Rogers' “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” television show, Ashley said.

Children will be able to enjoy a climbing area, a zip line, swings and mazes, towers and houses with various themes.

Playland is being rebuilt because part of it was damaged in a June 2012 arson. Although it reopened a week after the fire-damaged section was removed, the regional recreation commission decided to build a new Playland with modern safety features and accessibility for handicapped children. Just a small section of the original Playland was salvaged.

The original Playland — replete with wooden mazes, swings, skyscrapers, towers and a trolley — was built by hundreds of volunteers in May 1992.

One of those volunteers, David Meholic of Latrobe, returned for round two, setting posts for a piece of playground equipment.

“It's nice how it all is coming together,” said Meholic, who came to the park with a crew from his work at Aggressive Grinding Inc. of Unity.

Meholic recalled that in 1992 his wife, Shelby, was pregnant with their daughter, so she steered clear of the sawdust from the treated lumber because of the chemicals it contained, opting instead to help prepare food for the volunteers.

“Our daughter (Carly) spent lots of afternoons down here. She'll be here with St. Vincent (College) as part of their group” of volunteers, Meholic said.

Meholic was among more than 200 volunteers expected to work on Tuesday, said Craig Shevchik, the recreation commission's program director.

The volunteers this week will be working with about 1,000 pieces of treated lumber, 600 pieces of composite boards made of wood and plastic and about 100 posts. The plan is to finish the massive project on Sunday evening.

The effort got a big boost Tuesday from about 170 volunteers from Kennametal Inc., which has corporate headquarters is in Unity.

“There are a lot of families (at Kennametal) who use the park and we feel privileged to help,” said Ben Stas of Unity. The company's chief executive, Carlos Cardoso, challenged employees to donate 75 hours of community service in recognition of the company's 75th anniversary.

One worker whose daughter will be using the rebuilt Playland is Cindy Stein of Unity, who was accompanied by 5-year-old Miranda.

“It's so important for the kids. It's great for Miranda to come and be part of the experience,” Stein said.

If the recreation commission had to pay a contractor for the labor, the project would cost an additional $150,000, excluding all of the donated materials and equipment, said Lee Archin, a co-founder of Play by Design of Ithaca, N.Y., which designed the customized playground with input from Latrobe area elementary school children.

The volunteers “are willing to do anything on the job. They want to help,” Archin said.

The new Playland will have a time capsule, like the original one had. But the first one sustained water damage, said Dawna Bates of Unity, a retired Greater Latrobe elementary teacher who helped to organize the capsule's contents.

The commission has not decided when to open the time capsule, but it will not be for at least 20 years, Ashley said.

“It's great for the community to come together and do this. We are a special place,” Bates said.

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

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