Tarpon Springs has a wonderful opportunity to come together and build a big, modern playground for its children. KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit group that provides plans, expertise and financial partners to help communities create new playgrounds is interested in helping Tarpon Springs. Leaders from that city's churches, schools, civic groups and local government should be organizing now to see that the project gets done.
Washington-based KaBOOM! has been watching Tarpon Springs since last year, after reading a St. Petersburg Times report on dangerous conditions on the playground at the Mango Circle public housing complex. The Times reported the unappealing playground was littered with broken glass and the playground equipment was old, rusted and painted with toxic lead paint.
The Tarpon Springs Housing Authority demolished the playground but put nothing back in its place because, officials said, they hoped to replace the entire complex within the next few years. Mango Circle children had nowhere to play but the streets. KaBOOM! called to offer its help to build a new Mango Circle playground, but Housing Authority director Pat Weber hesitated because the playground would have to be removed when the complex was razed.
Now, a door has opened to an even better opportunity.
KaBOOM! still is eager to do something, so Weber has suggested that nearby Ed Dorsett Park, a city facility, would be an ideal spot for a super-playground to serve all of the city's children. It's a grand idea, for a number of reasons.
Dorsett Park is situated at the intersection of Harrison and Levis avenues, near Tarpon Springs Fundamental School. It isn't too far from Mango Circle, it is close to neighborhoods where residents often don't have their own transportation, yet it is also readily accessible to the rest of the city.
It is a big park, with a baseball diamond and tennis courts. But its existing playground is no attractor — just a swing set and a small piece of climbing equipment. It could use an upgrade.
KaBOOM! playgrounds are large and colorful and encourage children to climb, run, slide and generally be active. The nonprofit was started in 1996 after its founder read about two children who had smothered to death playing in an abandoned car. KaBOOM! is on a mission to see a playground within walking distance of every child in America and has helped to build more than 1,700 playgrounds and other sports facilities so far.
KaBOOM! doesn't actually build the playgrounds. It provides the structure and expertise to help a community build the playground itself, using hundreds of volunteers. It's an approach similar to the one that was used by another company to build Discovery Playground in Tarpon Springs in 1997.
In these times of tight budgets, it's important for Tarpon Springs residents to know that KaBOOM! also finds financial partners to pay for the playgrounds. The Home Depot is among the companies that has stepped up to provide financing for many KaBOOM! playgrounds.
If Tarpon Springs is approved for a project, the nonprofit will recruit sponsors.
KaBOOM! is looking for a signal from Tarpon Springs. That signal should come from new Mayor David Archie, who is in an ideal position to work with KaBOOM! and rally the community to pursue a great new playground for the city's children.