Next time you visit Graham’s Frontier Park, try the scavenger hunt.
Find the math challenge, bake sale, civics lesson, dunk tank, design primer, spaghetti feed, political debate, fireworks stand, handmade benches, omelette breakfast and T-shirts. Extra points if you locate the romance.
They’re all there, thanks to Bob Hansler’s 2010 fifth-graders at Kapowsin Elementary School, and their parents. Those students saw all those elements dedicated last week in the park’s new playground.
The plaque on that playground honors them, community members and class mom, Sara Lamrouex.
These were the kids who were shocked, some of them to tears, when a Pierce County Parks & Recreation crew demolished their old playground, a wooden structure they loved despite its passive-aggressive nature.
It gave them splinters. It threatened to spill them onto the hard ground.
“When we jumped on it, little flakes of wood would fall off,” Sami Bennett said at the time. “It was like we were making our own wood chips.”
When they learned there was no budgeted replacement, they decided to raise the money themselves, figuring it would cost less than $50,000. They asked Hansler to call Pierce County Parks & Recreation’s recreation superintendent Scott Hall and put him on speaker phone so they could offer their services.
Hall had to tell them a new playground would cost at least $210,000, and why.
Playgrounds are not what they used to be, thanks to lessons learned from injuries, materials that didn’t last and designs that shut out people with disabilities. With permits, budget struggles and design fees, building a new one is expensive, so it pays to do it right and make it last.
There’s your math challenge: Multiplying dollars.
“They still wanted to do fundraisers,” said parks director Kathy Kravit-Smith.
Mobilized by Lamrouex and grubstaked by community members, they held bake sales, car washes, a spaghetti feed and an auction. It was an election year, and they slammed money on a dunk tank filled with candidates. They scrambled for community support, including an omelette breakfast. They printed T-shirts, and, before the Fourth of July, the Lamrouex family moved into a trailer in a Fife parking lot to run a fireworks stand.
That would be the reunited Lamrouex family. Alexis and Justine’s parents, Sara and Samuel, had separated. The park drew them together again.
“We were there working as a family, doing things as a group,” Sara said. “We were able to build better communications skills. We could understand each other a little bit better. We saw the need for the community and were teaching our children something that will be with them forever.”
Samuel, a woodworker, crafted fine benches that became big sellers.
Meanwhile, the state budget plunged into crisis. The parks department shifted funds between projects to grab state money that required local matches.
The conversations between park backers, Pierce County Council members, parks officials and state lawmakers were sometimes, as the euphemism goes, spirited.
“Roger Bush and I butted heads,” Sara Lamrouex said of the Pierce County councilman. “I didn’t realize how important it was at the time that I needed him on my side. I didn’t need him as an enemy. At the dedication, Roger Bush and I were up there together.”
There were other stories, other politicians. Lamrouex relished her campaign to persuade Gov. Chris Gregoire to free up state funds. Yes, there was the narrative of the community work. But there were also emails and calls. Lots of emails and calls.
In the end, Graham’s Big Toy Team raised $9,551. The state awarded $125,700 in recreation and conservation funds, and Pierce County Parks contributed $137,466 to the $272,717 total.
This park is accessible to everyone who wants to use it. At the dedication, a man rolled his wheelchair over the rubberized foundation to keep up with his grandkids.
“What’s really exciting about this is that Parks & Recreation has really turned the corner on investing in playgrounds that are accessible to all of our citizens, including people with disabilities,” Kravit-Smith said. “It’s been a hard corner to turn because of our financial status.”
It was a tough turn, but the Big Toy Team, with their scavenger hunt worth of contributions, was pushing.kathleen.merryman@ thenewstribune.com 253-597-8677 blog.thenewstribune.com/street