Swings are about the only thing Stephanie Balasz’s young children can play on safely at Udall Park‘s playground.
The 28-year old play area is outdated and missing pieces, making it pretty hard for a child under 4 years old to access without assistance, she says.
“It’s a super utilized park and the playground is just kind of, ‘wah wah,'” she added.
Ella Lipham, 10, agrees.
“The paint is worn off,” Ella said. “And when playing yesterday, the bars are loose and it twisted. I almost fell on my back. I want it to be more safe for children.”
The playground won’t be in disrepair much longer, though, thanks to some determined parents and a grant from Kaboom, a non-profit that builds parks in one day.
After being told by the city that a new playground for Udall, 7290 E. Tanque Verde Road, was not in the budget, Sierra Boyer, community promotions and marketing manager for Tucson Parks and Recreation, connected Balasz with non-profit Kaboom to get the ball rolling at the park.
“Basically we were contacted by Kaboom letting us know there was a funder interested in applications from the Tucson area, in this case it was UnitedHealthcare,” Boyer said. “We have previously done Kaboom projects in Wards 1, 3 and 6. So we were looking for older playgrounds that could use replacing in Ward 2. Community members have been contacting us about Udall Park playground for quite some time but we never had the funding. The playground is over 28 years old, at a very heavily used park and there is no other playground in a close proximity. That is how we chose that one.”
With the grant, community children and parents get to help design the playground.
“It really gives the community a sense of ownership in the playground and equipment,” Boyer said.
About 30 children and their parents gathered in a meeting room at Udall Park Thursday to participate in Design Day, during which the kids got to draw their dream playground. Those drawings are then used as inspiration for the final product, said Derrick Dixon, associate project manager for Kaboom.
After introductions and a few exercises to get the kids thinking about play, Dixon handed out large sheets of paper titled “My dream playground.”
“I want you to imagine your dream playground,” Dixon said. “All the spiral slides, all the open fields to play tag. Then I want you do draw your dream playground.”
Lily Shaw, 11, said she would like to see a “community trampoline, a big slide and a gymnastics part with a balance beam and bars.”
Seven-year-old Milo Smith worked diligently at his drawing, his imagination hard at work.
“This is a rope and if you pull it once it makes you go 20 miles into the air,” Milo said. “There’s vines to climb on so if you want to go in the trees and see monkeys.”
Milo’s sister, Tarryn, 9, came prepared. She printed out a picture of a playground she found online and wrote a list during the drawing exercise. She wants the playground to include benches around the outside, shade, swings and pull-up bars you can spin on, all in rainbow colors.
“I made a list,” Tarryn said. “It would take along time to draw out the playground.”
At the end of the drawing exercise, Ellery Deruyter, 12, showed his dream playground to the group. It included a zip line, tree climb and laser tag.
“Yes!” Dixon said. “Zip line is my favorite. I just need one kid to say zip line and I can add a zip line.”
Brian Sabelka, a parent working on the project, is excited about the prospect of a new playground for his two young children. He and Balasz have gone to various playgrounds to get ideas.
“We’d like to see some new climbing structures that are a mix of higher height equipment for older kids and shorter stuff for kids 2-and-up,” Sabelka said. “We have seen a number of different playgrounds, so we have more things in mind of what would be a better fit for kids of all ages.”
Other parents have ideas too.
Jessica Diaz, mother of one, said they are at Udall Park at least once a week for soccer and baseball. She agrees that the playground is not accessible for children in the 2-4 age group. She would also like to see equipment that is accessible for children with special needs.
Diaz’s son, Matai, 7, wants to see new monkey bars and a rock wall.
The idea of asking the community what they want is beautiful, said Judy Lipham.
“It’s really interesting to hear ideas and to be able to contribute to that is wonderful,” Lipham said. “My daughter has Type 1 diabetes, which is a lot to deal with, so to be able to run around and blow off steam and be silly and crazy is a big thing.”
But there’s still work to be done to make the new playground happen.
Balasz and her planning committee which includes parents and community members, must raise at least $8,500 to match the grant. They are currently seeking donations from businesses and people in the community.
The group also has to recruit at least 100 volunteers for build day which will take place May 23 — and provide food and drinks for those volunteers.
In addition, the planning committee wants to raise about $35,000 to build a shade structure over the new playground.
“I’d really love to see a shade structure,” Balasz said. “We grew up in the midwest and the sun here has an intensity that is unbelievable compared to what we’re used to. It’s a lot of money, but we do need it.”