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A few years ago, Les Mace encouraged fellow members of the Springfield South Kiwanis Club to do something “notable.”
They did. They decided to fund an all-inclusive playground at Fellows Lake, a City Utilities-owned recreation area north of the city. The 820-acre lake is Springfield’s main source of drinking water.
For those who need a reminder, “Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to improving the world, one child and one community at a time.”
The Southside club, which has about 30 active members, was all in. “Yes,” they said, “let’s do something notable.” For about $250,000.
But then they found out “notable” would cost about $500,000.
“OK,” the group said, “we can still do this.”
“We decided to go whole hog,” says Mace, 88, a died-in-the-wool Kiwanian since 1971.
The club, with the help of a grant specialist and fundraiser in St. Louis, has almost finished the whole hog.
New playground expected to open near Memorial Day
It’s going to happen. Groundbreaking will be in March 2024 and ribbon-cutting is scheduled for around Memorial Day in May.
The cost is $499,000 and $450,000 in funding has been secured, says Victoria Babb, with Cunningham Recreation, a playground-equipment supplier based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She lives in St. Louis.
Babb’s job is to help groups like the Kiwanis club secure funding for projects, such as playgrounds and recreation centers.
The equipment supplier for the Fellows Lake project will be GameTime, a company based in Alabama.
The biggest donor is the Hatch Foundation, based here in Springfield.
The Hatch Foundation first donated $100,000 in matching funds, Babb says, and then another $50,000 that did not have to be matched.
The biggest added expense from the original $250,000, she says, was when the Kiwanians agreed to upgrade the surface from rubber-and-mulch to rubber only.
A park for more than just kids
If you’re like me, you might have thought an “all inclusive” playground meant one that was accessible to all children, including those with physical or neurological challenges.
It’s more than that, Babb tells me.
“All inclusive” means it will be accessible to grandparents, even those using walkers and wheelchairs, as well as military veterans with injuries, such as lost limbs.
An all-inclusive playground, she says, includes items such as high-backed swing seats and sensory equipment such as musical pipes or chimes that can be played with a rubber mallet built with a special grip on the handle to help maintain control.
When finished, the Fellows Lake playground will be similar to the all-inclusive one at McCauley Park in Nixa at the Nixa Community Center on Taylor Way.
Hey CU! Can we give you money for a new playground?
Mace tells me there are several other major donors that he did not want to be named because some gave anonymously.
The Kiwanis Club of Downtown Springfield is helping the Springfield South Kiwanis Club.
The chronology here is that the Southside club had decided that its notable project would be a playground.
“A couple of months after that we saw that City Utilities had announced plans to improve facilities at Fellows Lake,” Mace says.
So the Kiwanians contacted City Utilities and, basically, asked if the club could pay for a new all-inclusive playground as part of the improvements.
City Utilities said “yes.”
Actually, City Utilities exlaimed “yes!”
‘This is the saddest park I have ever seen’
James Okumu works for City Utilities. He first met with the Kiwanians in 2018; he is involved in the playground project.
Since 2018, a new marina has been built. It replaced the one constructed in 1958, when Fellows Lake opened for public use.
CU’s 2020 master plan for “Miller Park at Fellows Lake” does mention a new playground. The playground is in Miller Park, named after former CU General Manager Scott Miller, who retired in 2019.
“The current master plan, in addition to the marina and store, has explored and
is recommending a new conservation and education visitors’ center with café and overlook, an event venue pavilion/shelter, an all-ability nature play playground, upgrades to parking and circulation, restroom buildings, disc golf, observation structures and native planting areas to support the conservation education message of the lake and park.”
The existing playground equipment needs to be replaced, Okumu says.
“I have been going to Fellows Lake for almost 20 years and it’s been the same equipment,” Okumu says. “It’s not very safe, the metal gets very hot in the summer and it’s not very accessible.”
When Springfield Daily Citizen visual journalist Shannon Cay went to Miller Park to take photos, she reported back to me from the playground scene.
“This is the saddest park I have ever seen,” Cay said. “And I have seen a lot of parks.”
Okumu tells me the Kiwanians exude excitement about the project.
“It has been really awesome,” he says. “They are a good organization that has a really good mission. They have a passion.”
This is Pokin Around column No. 144.