The naysayers said it couldn’t be done. No way could the Joseph community come together, raise more than $200,000 and convince the community to volunteer thousands of hours to build the park playground.
The naysayers were wrong.
“We were talking about ways to help the community when Tyler Homan mentioned refurbishing the city park, painting it, sanding some of the boards,” said Kade Kilgore, a JCS sophomore. “It was pretty bad. That’s what got us started.”
Kilgore and four friends –– TJ Grote, Steven Beckman, Tyler Homan and Trey Wandschneider –– began the effort in 2015.
They were students in former JCS teacher Laurie Altringer’s community service class. Altringer liked the idea, but the boys had to convince the Joseph City Council.
Armed with a PowerPoint presentation, the boys came before the city council in February 2015. The council was supportive, and the city eventually contributed $2,500 to the cause.
The group selected Play By Design, a renowned playground design and building company from Ithaca, N.Y., to facilitate the project. FCCLA teacher Marla Dotson and project leader Penny Arentsen formed a community steering committee in October 2015.
The community became involved, a design was chosen and fundraising for the $210,000 project began in earnest. The company would provide most of the materials and a qualified playground crew of supervisors. The community provided the money and manpower.
Nearly every grade in the school had a fundraising project, including bake sales, selling donuts, raffles and others. The steering committee, with Arentsen at the helm, dove into grant-writing and other activities. She later said that about 99 percent of the funding came from foundations and private donations. A presentation to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department netted the group $130,000.
They persisted, although some balked at the price tag and the amount of community labor involved.
Arentsen never really harbored serious doubts that the project would come together.
“With the looming idea that the community had to be ready, there was no ‘this isn’t going to happen,’” she said. “We had to keep moving forward.”
Concerns over volunteers were put to rest when the sign-up sheet began to fill weeks before the start of work April 25, More than 3,000 man-hours were poured into the six-day construction project.
“I know people are busy, but they took little bits of time here and there for the project, and it was pretty awesome,” Arentsen said.
Inclement weather proved a challenge for contractor Lou Perry, who did almost all the site preparation work. People worked on construction, handed out tools or moved yard upon yard of gravel and wood chips with wheelbarrows. By April 30, the playground was ready for action.
An estimated 200 gathered to hear the obligatory speeches by Arentsen, Dotson, Joseph mayor Dennis Sands and others, as well as witness the ribbon-cutting. Children waited semi-patiently armed with scissors to cut the paper chain at the entrance. When the signal was given, the chain fell away, and the crowd surged through the log gateway constructed by Jim Zacharias.
Mayor Sands said the playground was more than he envisioned after the boys first presented the idea to the city council.
“I was thinking maybe a tire swing or something,” he said. “I didn’t want to discourage them, so I told them to go for it. It really turned into a good deal for us.”
Play by Design co-owner Lee Archin flew in with his crew April 24, putting in 13-hour days for the duration.
“I’ve been doing this for close to 25 years, and the people from Joseph are just so sweet and hard-working –– it doesn’t matter what walk of life they’re from, and they don’t mind getting dirty, which makes our lives easier,” said Archin. “These people are talented, from carpentry skills to artistic touches. Communities like Joseph make us look good.”
Dotson, who was in on the project since its inception, said that it meant a lot to her that the whole community came together and contributed.
“It was so heart-warming to see the wide variety of people working side-by-side –– smiling, talking and just giving their all,” she said. “It just amazed me how well things went. Seeing the children playing the night of the playground opening made it all worth it.”
Finishing touches are yet to be added. JCS senior Ben Lopez is working on a gazebo. A concrete sidewalk will wrap around the east side of playground, leading back to the splash pad (not yet in use) as well as a concrete patio adjoining the playground. Eastern Oregon Landscaping will install in-ground sprinklers.