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From pennies to playground

(ran NS, S editions of Tampa Bay & State)

Playground Mania, 12,000 square feet of fun scheduled to rise next month at Al Lopez Park, will be built by volunteers. First, though, organizers are counting on some volunteer financing, and they will take it a penny at a time.

Tampa Area Playground Project hopes its "Pennies From Heaven," event will collect more than a million pennies, according to TAPP founder Mark Dummeldinger.

"It's easy to give spare change," Dummeldinger said. "Everyone has a coffee can full of pennies around the house."

All week long, pennies have been collected at Barnett Banks and the fountain in West Shore Plaza. On Saturday, the Pennies From Heaven campaign wraps up at Jesuit High School, 4701 N Himes Ave.

Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. the public is encouraged to bring their pennies, or any donation, to the school where kids and volunteers will try to cover the auditorium floor with an artistic design made of pennies.

Dummeldinger said pennies have different shades depending on how worn they are. The kids will arrange the pennies in a way that will show the contrasting colors in a mosaic.

Dummeldinger said he started keeping the collected pennies in a closet until they became to hard to move. Thanks to Chris Stewart, the pennies are now kept at Barnett Bank.

Stewart, a branch manager, said he got himself and Barnett Bank involved with the playground project after a volunteer spoke at a Jaycee's meeting. He said Brinks Security has provided an armored car to help transport the pennies to Saturday's event.

And how will they count them all? With a scale, Dummeldinger said. Each pound of pennies is worth $1.67, he said.

Materials and architect fees for the playground will cost about $120,000. The city of Tampa is donating about $30,000, Barnett Bank $10,000 and TECO $5,000.

While the penny campaign focused on children, TAPP also hopes businesses and the general public will make larger donations. People who give at least $25 can have their name engraved on one of the pickets of the fence that will surround the playground.

Dummeldinger said volunteers and tools are still needed. About 3,500 volunteers will work four-hour shifts from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 8-13 to assemble the playground. Volunteers are encouraged to bring such items as power tools, rakes, hammers and shovels.

According to Dummeldinger, any equipment damaged during the construction will be repaired or replaced through a separate fund established by TAPP. For information on volunteering or donating to the project, call 273-8763.