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Published: Wednesday, 4/11/2007

Parents take charge to improve play area

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BLISSFIELD - It all started with playgrounds.

A pregnant Billie Patton and her husband moved to Blissfield in the late 1990s with their 2-year-old daughter, Clarissa, in tow.

Soon after their second daughter, Camryn, was born, Mrs. Patton began looking for more playgrounds.

"But I realized I couldn't put Camryn in the baby swing because it was just too rusty," she said.

"And I talked with other parents who felt the same way."

The village's playgrounds were unsafe, unusable, and some of the equipment was 80 years old, she said.

"We thought, 'Isn't there something we could do about this?' " she recalled.

So in 2001, a group of concerned parents formed the playground committee, with Mrs. Patton at the helm.

Since then, the committee has financed and built three new playgrounds.

Clarissa, 10, and Camryn, 8, and other children now have an array of choices.

"I think the success of the playground project started to make other people in our community begin to think about other things that could be done, other things that were needed," Mrs. Patton said. "It was a wave [of community recreation] that started off with the playground project."

Parents who had kids who were too old to play in the playground began thinking - with encouragement from their teens - about a skateboard park.

And parents began thinking about building tennis courts, where they could let loose some of their own daily stresses.

The old tennis courts at Ellis Park, off West Adrian Street, have been virtually unusable for more than five years because they are in a flood plain.

But the village has reached an agreement with Blissfield Community Schools to build new courts in front of the district's middle school on Beamer Road. Construction on the courts started last week and village administrator James Wonacott said he expects the $168,000 project to be finished by June.

Mr. Wonacott said $50,000 was given by an anonymous corporate donor, $25,800 came from a U.S. Tennis Association grant, and the remaining $92,200 will come out of village funds.

In return, the schools' physical education department may begin to incorporate tennis into its students' curriculum.

And the skateboarders - struggling to find a place of their own amidst run-ins with police over scratched bleachers, scuffed curbs, and damaged picnic tables - pounced on the vacated tennis courts at Ellis Park.

Skateboarders and their parents have raised $55,000.

Ramps and pipes have been ordered.

Art Weeber, one of the parents helping to run the skateboard park committee, said he hopes some of the facility will be ready by May for skaters to practice their Ollies - jumping with your skateboard - and grinds down stair rails.

Mr. Weeber said the skateboarders hope to raise additional funds to bring more equipment to the park during the summer.

The most recent playground project at Bachmayer Little League Park on Veterans Avenue still needs $20,000 more.

The "Boundless Playground," where kids with and without disabilities can play together, still needs a handicap-convenient parking lot and handicap-accessible bathrooms, Mrs. Patton said.



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