Officials, residents celebrate reopening of playground

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER --  Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez takes on Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School student Dwan Anders, 13, in a game of one on one Monday, December 10, 2012 at the reopening of Sam Bonart Playground in the lower ninth ward. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez takes on Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School student Dwan Anders, 13, in a game of one on one Monday, December 10, 2012 at the reopening of Sam Bonart Playground in the lower ninth ward.

New Orleans — William Lynch remembers the days after Hurricane Katrina when it seemed like Sam Bonart Playground might never come back.

On Monday, though, the Lower 9th Ward resident was all smiles as he watched children from the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School scurry after a basketball on a freshly painted court inside of the refurbished park.

“It was just dead,” he said of the area after Katrina’s waters drained. “Look at it now.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu was joined by officials from the Salvation Army and New Orleans Hornets, two organizations that gave $44,000 to help pay for the $474,000 project. The difference was funded by FEMA and city bond funds.

The park’s restorations included renovation of the concessions stand, improvements to the pool building and replacement of the basketball posts, backstops and hoops. The basketball shelter and courts were repainted in the Hornets’ team colors.

Vic Richard, CEO of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, said the children in the neighborhood will help propel its recovery.

Landrieu said that restoring the park was one way to ensure they have an appropriate place to play.

“The reason we’re here is because of you guys,” Landrieu told the King school students. “You’ve got to use this well; this is your playground.”

Hornets General Manager Dell Demps said he was excited to have his team help with the restoration since he built his foundation playing at neighborhood parks.

“I see you sitting out here, and I see myself 30 years ago,” he said. “This is for you.”

As the children took turns shooting hoops with Landrieu and Hornets starting point guard Greivis Vasquez, Lynch said everything felt whole again.

“It was hard, but we kept digging at it,” he said. “It’s all back. I really love to see the kids.”