DIANE HIRES / BLADE Enlarge
DIANE HIRES / BLADE Enlarge
The small children's heads swivel left, then right, and back to the left before they cross the street at Safe-T-City.
In the background, they probably don't recognize anything new. For many, this is their first visit to the free summer safety program sponsored by Toledo police at its Nebraska Avenue station.
But the officers and teachers running the program for youngsters entering kindergarten notice a change - and it's a big difference.
For the first time in more than 20 years, Safe-T-City looks like a minicity.
"We had to come up to date. We needed some improvements," said Officer Starr Chong, who compiled a wish list of changes that officers began to talk about last year.
Libbey High School shop students built nine buildings - a police station, fire station, church, school, house, and businesses - as part of their class last year.
The colorful wooden structures have real roofing material, and the house has siding. They stand twice as tall as the five, 4-foot-high, fold-up plywood pieces made to look like buildings that officers have toted in and out of storage every program day - in Officer Earl Barry's case, since 1984.
New black-and-white railroad crossing signs and gates grace newly sealed streets, where pedal cars sit in place of old tricycles the children would ride. New bleachers are next to the shelter house, whose inside received blinds and a fresh coat of paint.
"It gives it a nice, new look," Officer Barry said.
While finishing touches, such as signs, need to be done, program organizers and parents like the change, saying it's more realistic for the youngsters.
"I did notice it looks different. There's more signage. It's not those little crosswalks. It makes it look more realistic to [the children,]" said South Toledo parent Leslie Simmons, who as a youth volunteered at Safe-T-City before the fold-up houses existed.
Officers said the improvements were covered by donations, including volunteered time painting and potted flowers. The pedal cars were bought with grant money.
For example, Lowe's home improvement created concrete pads for the buildings and moved the structures. The company also donated a new vacuum, hose, and power washer, Officer Chong said.
Passersby soon will notice a few other differences, such as a fence that will placed around the outdoor city - which hasn't been exempt from a little vandalism.
Someone wrote a name on one of the buildings, which are empty, and tore the back doors off the hinges. The doors were reattached and now have locks. One of the railroad crossing signs was bent.
Despite the minor defacement, organizers said the improvements are a welcome change for them and the children.
"I want the children to feel good and have it feel real," Officer Chong said. "The environment makes it a better place to learn."
Contact Christina Hall at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6007.