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Transformation of Desmare Playground moves into its next phase

Children play at Desmare Playground on equipment designed for children up to age 5. The new equipment is for older children, ages 5 to 12. (Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association)

The transformation of Desmare Playground is moving forward. Volunteers are gathering Saturday at the park across from St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 on Esplanade Avenue to install new equipment, beginning Phase 2 of the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association’s four-phase Desmare Playground Revitalization Plan.

The new equipment has spinners, slides, two monkey bars, a boogie board, a spider-web climber and other apparatus designed to engage children ages 5 to 12, plus a new safety surface beneath the equipment.

“It’s amazing,” Aimee Kramer, the playground chairperson for FSJNA, said of the playground’s latest addition. “We’re really hoping that having new equipment will lead to more families being able to use the space.”

(via Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association)

The park’s master plan includes equipment for all ages — exercise stations for adults will be installed — to attract more people to Desmare, a neighborhood gathering spot in the shadow of City Park. Building a better playground is a way to bring the community together, organizers say, to achieve benefits that go beyond exercise.

“I have a very good swing set in my own backyard,” Kramer said, “but that’s not going to lead to my child making a new friend.”

During the first phase, after a master plan was developed, FSJNA installed a swing pavilion, a new ADA-compliant entry and bike racks. Landscaping was also added, with 11 new trees to provide shade and beauty. Phase 1 was completed in May 2018.

It took five years to raise the money for Phase 1, which had financing from the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, and two years to raise the $83,000 for the new DynaPlay equipment. “It was two years of blood, sweat and tears,” Kramer said. “It was like squeezing blood out of a stone.”

The money came from sources such as fundraisers, a GoFundMe campaign, grants from charitable foundations. The group received $15,000 from KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit dedicated to providing grants for community playgrounds. There was a problem, however — they needed to provide matching funds.

“We have been fundraising for this for a while and were a month away from losing our $15,000 KaBOOM! grant and offer from a private donor willing to give us $20,000 if we could match it,” said FSJNA president Linda Landesberg in an email.

So the group approached District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso. Harrah’s, as part of its agreement with the city, provides grants for community-based projects, with each City Council member distributing $16,071 semiannually. Giarrusso granted $10,000 — the largest amount to a single organization in the latest round of funding — and Councilman-at-large Jason Williams gave $1,071 to FSJNA for the Desmare Playground equipment.

“Without Councilman Giarrusso taking us to the finish line, we may not have been able to have this conversation,” Landesberg said.

The new equipment will be going into a worn-out corner of the playground, Kramer said, inhabited by a “sad monkey bar,” a balance beam that was seldom used, and a broken log roller that was never completely functional. “We’re replacing this dinky equipment with some amazing stuff,” Kramer said.

After the play station is constructed, a crew will pour the surface, which takes a few days to cure. Organizers hope to have it kid-ready by Thanksgiving.

The Phase 2 plan includes a mural at the basketball half-court, where a tricycle track will also be painted. The mural will cost a few thousand dollars, Kramer said, and those funds haven’t been raised.

The basketball court will remain, Kramer said, but a colorful track will be painted on the surface to encourage young children to ride on it when no hoop shooters are around.

The park, like other public areas throughout the city, underwent comprehensive lead remediation in 2012. In 2013, the FSJNA held a kids’ charrette, where children and other residents drew pictures of how a redesigned playground should look. These ideas ranged from swing sets to duck ponds.

With an eye toward those ideas as well as easy maintenance, sustainability, ADA accessibility and stormwater management, landscape architect Dana Brown & Associates drew up the master plan.

The last time Desmare Playground had any major updates was in the early 1990s, when a burned-down shelter was removed and play equipment for children age 2 to 5 was added. This equipment at the center of the park is in use today but needs regular repair.

Future plans include a new exercise station for adults, a rain garden, new fencing, and re-purposing space for kid-centric neighborhood events such as movie nights and baby play groups.

The event on Saturday is also kid-centric. As volunteers install the new equipment, children can enjoy face-painting and crafts as well as the park’s offerings. Volunteers are still needed, especially for the kids activities, Kramer said. Email info@fsjna.org if you’d like to take part.

“It’s been challenging to get a lot of community support,” Kramer said. “I hope this will help bring everyone together.”

The Desmare Playground Build & Play Day will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the park in the 3400 block Esplanade. Residents are encouraged to come by to enjoy the music and food even if they can’t volunteer.

 

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