In a few hours, volunteers create playground in McKees Rocks

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A mountain of mulch was about the only thing occupying the Third Street Park in McKees Rocks early Friday morning.

The flat 3.2-acre site was otherwise barren, except for a picnic pavilion that had been erected earlier this summer by 25 corporate volunteers.

But by 3 o'clock, the park had a KaBOOM! playground with slides, swings, ladders and other climbing devices in vivid shades of orange, yellow and blue.

More than 200 corporate and community volunteers -- including Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma-- labored mightily to excavate the mulch mountain.

That was after they dug holes, mixed and poured cement, installed playground equipment and built a gazebo, a horse shoe pit, eight picnic tables and four benches.

The workers used shovels to load mulch into wheel barrows and big sheets of plastic and rakes to spread mulch around the swings and slides and into a winding walkway.

Though a mid-morning storm with thunder and lightning mandated a 30-minute halt to construction, workers beat the 3 p.m. completion deadline by 10 minutes.

Good thing, for another storm moved in as volunteers were leaving.

In the early afternoon when the mulch mountain was still more than six-feet high, a surprise volunteer climbed to the top and began dancing to the ever-popular party song, "Shout!" which blared from loudspeakers.

It was Iceburgh, the Penguins mascot.

Much to the delight of children on the site, Iceburgh visited with them and posed for pictures. Then, despite temperatures in the mid-80's coupled with high humidity, Iceburgh grabbed a shovel and went to work on the mulch mountain.

He stayed in character and in his undoubtedly uncomfortably hot costume made from black furry material with a black and gold number "00" Penguins sweater.

The Pens sent 45 employees from the front office and Mr. Bylsma. They worked the entire playground construction shift, with the coach wearing a purple do-rag on his head and the same grey teeshirt worn by all the volunteers.

"Let's Play," said the logo, followed by the name of a corporate sponsor: Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.

The group is spending $15 million over three years to build or fix up 2,000 playgrounds across the country, said Brian McGee of Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. About $75,000 went to the Third Street playground. Forty of their employees, including Mr. McGee, worked on the McKees Rocks project.

Other volunteers include elected officials and employees of McKees Rocks, the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation and organizers from KaBOOM! as well as borough residents.

Duquesne Light Co., which sent volunteers in June to build the pavilion, returned on Friday to help with the playground.

KaBOOM! is a 15-year-old non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. that has built more than 2,000 playgrounds. They generally go to communities where a large number of children qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches.

"What I especially like about KaBOOM! is they get the community involved," said Sto Rox School Board president Elizabeth Smith. "This will be the ultimate playground. We finally have a place for families and children to go."

One of the prime movers in landing KaBOOM! in McKees Rocks is McKees Rocks councilwoman Maribeth Taylor. She and her husband, Sonny, also participated in advance work two days prior to playground construction.

The Taylors and others accepted delivery of building materials and pre-cut lumber used to build tables and benches.

Mr. Bylsma helped build picnic benches on Friday. Is he an accomplished handyman?

"I'm more of a learn as I go kind of guy," he said, before shifting over to mulch hauling and spreading. "This is an awesome community project."

Neighborhood children were consulted about what equipment should go into their park. Some of them even showed up to help, including Andy Cochran, a fourth-grade student.

"This is like my second home," he said of the park that is within walking distance of his house. "I've been here since 10:30 and I've done a little bit of everything, including hauling mulch."

Andy and other volunteers gathered together in front of the orange slide to pose for a picture. But he and other children would have to wait three days before they could actually use and enjoy the equipment.

The cement needs to settle and "cure," said Caleb Marshall, KaBOOM! senior project manager.

"Remember things would not get done without volunteers," Mr. Marshall told the crowd, "so give yourself a round of applause. This playground gives kids something to do. It gets them off the street."

Mrs. Taylor also thanked all the volunteers, and noted that future improvements are planned for Third Street Park, including the installation of bocci courts.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-722-0087.


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