New Paltz’s community playground was in a state of disrepair.
The Hasbrouck Park Playground, located near the center of the village of 7,000, was constructed 24 years ago, and the wooden structures were beginning to splinter.
“It actually became a safety hazard,” said village Trustee Michele Zipp. “A lot of the poles were splintering off – kids have gotten really bad splinters. I’m talking about over six inches long, half-an-inch-wide splinters.”
The village Department of Public Works had been repairing the playground for years, but some of the equipment, such as the playground’s tracked zipline, had to be retired because it was beyond repair, Zipp said.
The village decided to build a new Hasbrouck Park Playground the same way they built the now-dilapidated one 24 years ago – with mass community participation.
More than 800 sign-ins were recorded, according to Zipp, though the number of total volunteers was less because participants working multiple days needed to sign in separately each day. This still suggests a significant chunk of the village was part of the effort.
Zipp and other coordinators attracted volunteers through local radio stations and newspapers, social media, and sending fliers home with schoolchildren, as well as talking up the effort at every possible chance, Zipp said.
Volunteers broke ground last Wednesday, and children were clambering over the new equipment by 5 p.m. Sunday.
The project originated in 2015, when the village undertook an assessment of the existing Hasbrouck Park Playground and determined it needed to be replaced within five years, said village Mayor Tim Rogers.
The village contracted with Leathers & Associates, who designed the playground, and the village bought much of the construction material from an Ohio-based distributor, according to village officials.
Leathers & Associates flew in two of their consultants to coordinate the project during its construction phase, but these were the only paid laborers in the hundreds-strong construction team, Zipp said.
The playground cost the village over $200,000, Rogers said, who was unable to put a number on how much the volunteers saved the village.
All sorts of people came to volunteer, said village Trustee Bill Murray.
“[It was] a combination of really every member of our community,” he said. “It was students from SUNY (New Paltz), students from the high school, parents…really anyone who felt the desire to come help us were welcome.”
The construction was to be finished by 5 p.m. Sunday, when a soft opening for the playground was planned, said Village Trustee Alexandra Wojcik.
“Suddenly, it’s five o’clock and there’s all these kids, all ages, lining up around the park…and we’re like, ‘Oh my God, we need to finish,’” Wojcik laughed. “So we’re running around, brushing things off and making sure there were no loose screws or anything, and then we were able to step away and be like, ‘Welcome to your new playground’…that was probably the best moment.”
The best part of the experience was “that intangible benefit of getting together with your community members,” Mayor Rogers said.
The village wrestled with the details of the undertaking in the months leading up to the build, but the construction turned out to be a wonderful community event, Rogers said.
“The thing I enjoyed the most was how it felt incredibly rewarding to spend five straight days with neighbors, just getting dirty and using power tools and cutting lumber up,” he said. “It was a really unique experience – now I understand why the people who did it 24 years ago spoke about it with such fondness.”
A number of the volunteers participated in the playground build 24 years ago, Rogers added.
“We were joking that when we have to rebuild again 25 years from now, we hope that there’s a handful of people who say, ‘This is our third playground build,’” he said.