Building Community–with a Playground–Part 1

20170427_151645In this post, I recall my participation as a volunteer for a sliver of the 3,500+ hours it took to build the City of Joseph’s new playground.

It all started over a year ago, when pillars of our community decided to do something about Joseph’s aging playground. I had taken my kids to the city park several times, and wondered why the playground was so mediocre. It’s galvanized pipe & wood structures were aging, giving splinters, and providing little entertainment for today’s youth.IMG_5452 (Before picture on right –>)

With a budget of $225,000 the committee was aiming for a real “hum-dinger” that would engage and inspire children for a LONG time. (Spoiler: they succeeded) For more details, you can checkout their website at

Using Play by Design LLC, they planned to organize volunteers to construct this behemoth. Some may assume (as I did) that volunteers would assemble a “kit” that was pre-made &/or modular in design. Boy was I wrong! This was a custom-engineered playground that was cut, drilled, routed, & assembled ON location, by OUR community of volunteers.

20170427_121002There were 50 slots available for 3 shifts a day, for 6 days. Folks could also sign up to bring or serve meals, provide daycare, etc. Many donated all their tools for community use. (I was not that generous.) allowed volunteers to indicate when and how many slots they could fill. There were several generous organizations that allowed or even organized their employees to pitch in. (Thank you Community Bank, Bank of Eastern Oregon, Nez Perce Tribe, Building Healthy Families, & all the contractors!) My supervisor didn’t provide this opportunity, so I decided to use three half-days of vacation instead, taking afternoon shifts Thurs-Sat. 20170427_151648

I arrived Thursday to a forest of poles. Gravel had replaced much of the mud I had heard was plaguing the worksite, and the ‘splash pad’ was already installed. At the sign-in picnic shelter they sorted people into a skilled, or unskilled role. No fancy test or quiz was required, you merely stood in a line according to a sign:

  • “If you know how to operate a power saw, stand here.”
  • “If you don’t know how to operate a power saw, stand here.”

20170427_151651While I chose the ‘skilled’ line, some regretted their decision later, or switched sides. Skilled folk were sometimes asked to work with tools they’d never used before, and were nervous after some basic instruction. I noticed several gaining new self-confidence, as well as respect for true tradesmen. Others felt over their head, and would rather shovel bark chips than rip & route 32 2×2 boards. (By the way, the entire project was made of Trex-like material, composed mostly of recycled milk jugs.)

I was given the introductory speech about the locations for 1st Aid, tools, warming tent, assembly tables, etc. Then I was led down and assigned to a ‘team leader’ that wore an orange hat. Thursday, my 20170428_142540leader was ‘Ollie,’ a soft-spoken, even-tempered man of considerable skill. He was assigned the task of building the ‘wavy tower.’ The posts were set, sides & roof assembled, we merely needed to put the parts together.

We had a laminated instruction sheet detailing each side, and were given instructions by the site manager. I ended up being a gopher, mostly, while we braced a post into place, and worked our way around the structure. I thought that synthetic material would have less ‘character’ than real wood, but it bends and ‘wows’ and is uneven too. At one point I traded places working up top, as my team-mate wasn’t 20170427_162528comfortable using a skill saw to cut around the 6-inch post, whilst atop the 16-foot ladder.

By the end of my 4-hour shift, the tower was assembled, and roof set on top. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay any longer. You see, I had chosen the afternoon shift so I could still be productive at work, then expend my physical energy for 4 hours, staying longer if I felt up to the task. However, I had to skip the free meal so I run to La Grande and pickup TBear for the weekend.

Stay tuned for Part 2!


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