Caretakers emerge for Mt. Airy's Houston Playground
After three months, a series of meetings, the formation of a steering committee and countless emails, community parents and neighbors are one step closer to solidifying a formal group for the caretaking of Houston Playground.
The playground at Henry H. Houston Elementary was built and funded 10 years ago by neighbors with young children. The original Friends of Houston Playground (FOHP), as they were called, has since dissipated after the members' kids grew up and stopped using the playground.
And when a 10-year agreement between the school, nearby neighbors and the group expired earlier this year, the West Mt. Airy Neighbors—who hold the playground's funds—sought someone to take responsibility.
Houston principal Kim Newman said that realistically the school district has no funds to take care of the grounds and worried that if someone didn't take responsibility, the playground wouldn't be available for the kids at the school or the neighborhood.
But there is good news—the new caretaking group, as of Thursday night, now has a president.
A group of 10 met Thursday night at the home of Erin Crowley and David Stern-Gottfried, who live in the neighborhood and have two small children.
Stern-Gottfried volunteered to be the president with the hopes of finding a strong co-president or vice president.
He said he wants to be involved for the community and social aspect of the group.
"Selfishly, I want to see more social events for young parents," he said. "At the very few events I've been to—because I don't see many—they're packed with parents and kids looking for activities."
Stern-Gottfried said his dream social event for the playground is a flash mob dance party with a mariachi band.
Meanwhile, Stern-Gottfried is looking for a few other leaders to join the ranks.
There are four committees that he said need to be run in addition to the executive committee—maintenance and repair, communications, fundraising and events as well as finance.
Crystal Bianchi, a parent and nearby neighbor, has also volunteered as the secretary to spearhead communications.
A few others will be helping to maintain the playground with the help of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service repair coordinator and member of the original group, Rusty Prall. Prall has records of costs and knows what it takes to maintain the playground.
But the committee is looking for more community members to take on leadership roles and get involved.
What lies ahead
Next on the list for the informal group is to engage the community, gain more members and plan a spring fundraiser. The group also wants to get signage for the park. There are currently no signs and it's not easily seen from the street.
Fundraising is of particular importance since, according to Bianchi, there is currently $52 in the FOHP bank account.
Prall reported in December that the playground costs $5,000 in annual upkeep.
"At the bare bones minimum the playground needs to be maintained and kept in shape," Stern-Gottfried said.
Woodchips alone, according to Prall, cost $1,800 a year. During the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event, the group could only afford about half of the woodchips needed. Hardware to fix several unusable swings was donated.
Coming to a new agreement with neighbors
Another thing atop the priorities list, Stern-Gottfried said, is to renew an agreement with neighbors.
There have been worries in the past with children climbing the fence when the playground was locked and injuring themselves. As a result, the FOHP hired someone to lock and unlock the gate every day.
Neighbors also worried about issues with folks causing trouble in the playground—there have been a few fires set there and other vandalism issues in the past.
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The Houston Playground is located behind Henry H. Houston Elementary School on Allens Lane between Bryan Street and Cresheim Road.