Playground ready for Phase 1 of face-lift

SOUTH WHITLEY — A dream which seemed unrealistic two years ago is now becoming a reality for South Whitley residents Katey Till and Colleen French. The two mothers have been working vigorously to raise money in order to transform the community’s town park into a magical playland complete with a fire truck and colorful village houses.“We are really anxious and ready to put something down there,” French said. “With gas prices up, it would be nice to have something new and inviting in this town because people may not be able to afford to drive to another town for a park.”The current playground needs a facelift as the gravel ground makes it impossible for someone in a wheelchair to go there. The steel slide, with low sides, makes it easy for a child to fall off from 10 feet up. Till and French believe most residents take their children to Columbia City or North Manchester due to nicer playground equipment.With a total price tag of approximately $200,000, the new playground will be divided into two phases with the groundbreaking ceremony for Phase I scheduled on May 21. Phase I (Doodlebug Village) is the colorful village houses which will be located on the west side of the park by the tennis courts.Due to the efforts of Till and French, funding is currently available for the colorful villages (Phase I), but a $15,000 fire truck (with slides) still requires funding. Phase II (adventure mania) will be on the east side of the park. “Sometimes money falls through when reaching out to people,” French said. “The fire truck with slides is suppose to be in the village, but we still need to raise the $15,000 for it.”The colorful villages have just been selected with a CAD department (located in Michigan) finalizing all the details. “We just finalized the blueprint of the village with lots of colors,” Till said. “The company where we got the village houses has never done a village like this and we were told by this company that this park has potential as a destination playground and South Whitley is the first to offer something like this — we are trying to create a whole new playing experience for children.”As far as maintenance and possible flooding from the nearby Eel River, the board has been in contact with the Whitley County Health Department which suggested using non-porous materials which will aid in preventing the threat of bacteria. If flooding should ever occur in the park, high pressure hoses from the fire department, along with sun rays, will help clear most of the bacteria within a few hours. Non-porous material does not contain toxic chemicals which can be found in pressure treated lumber.“The Cleveland Township Fire Department will come down and spray the equipment if there is ever a flood and that is really all that needs done during a flood,” Till said. “Plus, we are going to be drilling holes in the bottom of the village houses and securing them down which will allow for proper drainage.”Despite a slow economy, Till and French have managed to put $64,695 in the bank toward the park, along with $6,000 in pledges from individuals and businesses. Additionally, the town of South Whitley has a park fund, which set aside $25,000 last year and $15,000 this year for the playground equipment, which is included in the $64,495.For over a year, Till and French have been searching continuously for sources of funding. In April, 2010, they applied for a matching grant from the State of Indiana and will not know the outcome until October.Writing grant requests, applying to various foundations consumes approximately eight hours to write one grant request, and both mothers have been doing it on their own time, without pay.Future funding ideas also include The Lutheran Foundation where the board will be requesting $50,000 on their grant application.“If we could get donations, it would cut the costs,” Till said. “Also, donated labor and materials would help cut the costs of this project, and we are always looking for someone to donate concrete for the sidewalk within the park — that would save us a big chunk of money.”Recently, the two mothers’ efforts paid off as they received notification from the DEKKO Foundation, which is awarding a $40,000 matching grant toward the project. Every one dollar raised, DEKKO will match two dollars, up to $40,000. “DEKKO is offering the community this matching grant because they want to see the South Whitley community more involved and that is why they made this $2/$1 challenge to individuals and businesses,” French said. “We’re still trying to get the community to rally behind this project.”All donations are tax deductible and the community’s help is necessary in order to make this dream come true. “This new playground incorporates imaginary play along with kinesthetic play and helps children to improve and develop activity,” French said.The new park design (phase I and II) will combine imagination and physical play at a whole new level for children. The village houses will help children to interact by using literate intelligence, social skills, mathematical knowledge and logic intelligence.For daily playground updates go to the park’s Facebook page by searching for South Whitley playground project or visit the Web site at and business owners are encouraged to make contributions for this state-of-the-art playground which will provide many years of physical activity and excitement for children in the community. For more information, or to make a contribution, you can contact French at 723-4865 or Till at 723-4140. To donate materials or help with installation of the village houses on May 21, contact Ron Anderson at 609-5572.“We are excited that we are going to have a park that is not available anywhere else,” Till said. “This park is going to be colorful and beautiful.”