Flannery Road Park gets makeover

More than 250 volunteers proved Friday it’s possible to build a multipurpose playground in just over six hours.

Volunteers from civic associations, Southern University, CityYear and others braved chilly Friday morning temperatures to pour concrete, construct equipment, build park furniture, lay sod and other tasks associated with installing a playground for kids and exercise equipment for adults at Flannery Road Park in Sherwood Forest.

When it was done, a gleaming 2,800-square-foot, $100,000 playground lay in the middle of the park, where it will replace older equipment in another part of the park.

Though the park was built in less than a day, it will take three days before the concrete anchoring the equipment dries and the park can be used. It should be ready Monday, BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said.

“This is what can happen when we come together as one,” McKnight told the crowd gathered before cutting the ribbon with Jeff Fernandez, a regional president for Humana, the company that funded the project.

Humana teamed with KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit organization that builds playgrounds, in organizing the project.

BREC provided the facility and some of the volunteers.

The foundations for the project were laid last spring when McKnight was on a trip to Louisville, Ky., with a group of officials from Baton Rouge.

“We met the CEO of Humana, Mike McAllister, and I asked him to do a playground with us,” McKnight said. “Then KaBOOM! called me.”

McKnight said BREC officials looked for a park with old playground equipment.

“We have two or three of them in the system,” she said. “This was one of them.”

Over the next few months, as the project progressed, McKnight spoke regularly with representatives of both KaBOOM! and Humana, she said.

Eventually, they held a meeting with children from the area and asked them what they wanted in the park, McKnight said.

“This is not just for children,” said Jen DeMelo, a project manager for KaBOOM. “We are interested in physical activity for all ages.”

DeMelo referred to the playground as “multigenerational.”

DeMelo has been involved in building more than 100 playgrounds across the country, she said. Flannery Park was the 2,213th park built by KaBOOM!, including 100 built on the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

During Friday’s build, volunteers constructed two slides, a swing set, a rockwall, mixed 24,000 pounds of concrete and moved 130 cubic yards of mulch, DeMelo said.

Volunteers were divided in to crews to do the work. The crews had names like “Teardrop,” “Cupcake,” “Owl” and “Princess” that defined what area they worked in, DeMelo said.

James Gray, a 65-year-old retiree who was on the “Cupcake” crew, moved mulch.

“This is great for the neighborhood,” he said. Gray, a board member of the Sherwood Forest Civic Association, one of the sponsors of the event, said he had been at the park since 7:30 in the morning.

“It’s great to see all the young volunteers out here,” he said.

Jordan Dukes, who arrived with a group of Southern University students, said he came just to serve the community.

“It’s fun, planting everything,” said the 19-year-old member of the “Teardrop” crew, which was placing sod. “It’s an awesome experience.

Joe Kidd, a 23-year-old LSU student, said working on the crew was a good chance to get out of the house for a few hours. Kidd was on the “Princess” crew which started on concrete and later moved to mulch.

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said the project is important to the community.

“It was definitely needed here,” James said. “This park was one of the priorities that people talk about.”

James said the project is a model of how a public-private partnership can benefit Baton Rouge communities.

“This is a good encouragement to other businesses to come to our city,” he said.