TARPON SPRINGS — For the second time, a national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that children have playgrounds within walking distance of their homes has offered to help the children of Mango Circle.
Last year, KaBOOM! contacted the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority after learning the public housing community's playground was removed for safety reasons. There were rusted steel bolts and traces of lead paint on the outdated equipment.
Washington-based KaBOOM! did the same on April 19.
"I saw the recent article in the St. Petersburg Times regarding the need for a playground at Mango Circle," Leah Judge of KaBOOM!'s client services wrote in an e-mail to Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Chris Alahouzos. "I've actually been following this story since the playground was deemed dangerous and removed last year.
"My organization frequently has funding to build playgrounds in the Tampa Bay area and last year we built several playgrounds in the region."
Mango Circle first came into focus last April after a Times story described the rundown conditions of the complex's playground.
A National Playground and Park Association inspector delivered a scathing report that said the site was unsafe for children and the playground was removed.
At that time, Judge contacted Pat Weber, executive director of Tarpon Springs Housing Authority, about providing assistance. But Weber informed KaBOOM! of the authority's intention to raze Mango Circle and build a new public housing facility once a federal tax credit was received. It was decided not to pursue a grant for a new playground.
"I spoke with them last year and I just spoke with her recently," Weber said Monday. "I don't know if it will work out or not. To get a playground that we would have to put in and then move, I don't know how that will work. But it (the grant) would be something we would be interested in."
Linda Herring, chairwoman of the Housing Authority's commission, would not address KaBOOM!'s offer but said the matter will be discussed thoroughly at the commission's 10 a.m. meeting on May 13.
KaBOOM! was started in 1996 and has built more than 1,700 playgrounds and sports fields throughout the country. The organization has helped build skate parks and ice rinks, but the focus is mostly on playgrounds. More than $140 million has been poured into the effort, said Mike Vietti, KaBOOM!'s communications manager.
The organization finds financial backers who are willing to pay for the playgrounds. Through an application process, KaBOOM! then matches the funding with needy communities. KaBOOM! has helped build 24 playgrounds in the Tampa Bay area.
The City Commission has approved the plan for a new Mango Circle.
But the project hasn't moved forward because Weber was denied a Florida Housing Finance Authority tax credit for this cycle. She plans to reapply in December.
If the credit is received, Mango Circle will become a $17 million affordable housing community dubbed Eagle Ridge. The three-story project calls for walking trails, two recreation areas, a pool and a clubhouse.
But in the meantime, the children at Mango Circle have been without a playground — something that many say should not continue.
Alahouzos, who has been encouraged by the initiative from KaBOOM!, said nothing should deter the effort to provide a playground. Alahouzos noted that playgrounds are now modular and can be more easily disassembled. He said a fundraiser could be held if needed.
"The kids have to play and they can't be playing in the street," Alahouzos said. "We have to do whatever it takes to get this thing done."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4174