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Construction to begin at Kids United Community Playground next week

Dawn Austin, left, and Gerry Fausnaught, right, of the Williamsport Kiwanis, turn over the first dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Kids United Playground at Cochran Primary School in Williamsport on Monday morning. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

he first spadefuls of dirt were turned marking the beginning of the Kids United Community Playground project, which has been two years in the making. Construction is set to begin next week , Wayne Fausnaught, committee chair and Kiwanis member, announced as members of the Williamsport Kiwanis and Rotary clubs and the Williamsport Area School District and Education Foundation broke ground.

“We’re anxious to get started here with the actual construction,” Fausnaught told the members of the committee who had gathered to witness the symbolic beginning of the project.

The playground had originally been planned for a site at Stevens Primary School on Louisa Street, but the decision was made to move the location to Cochran Primary School on Cherry Street.

According to Dr. Timothy S. Bowers, superintendent, the move was made because of a feasibility study in the district.

“We’re still in a feasibility study for Stevens. So until we know for sure what’s going to happen with that building, we felt we didn’t want to delay this project any longer,” Bowers said.

“We felt it would be more prudent to move it to this location,” he added.

The new site on the north side of Cochran Primary School will offer children of all abilities a place to experience outdoor play.

The 9,400 square foot playground will replace the playground that is currently at the school and will be constructed closer to the school building to provide increased accessibility and lighting. Because of its location the new playground will primarily serve the central and east end communities in the city. The district has pledged to maintain the new facility.

“Back in the spring of 2018, several individuals expressed a dream. A dream about building a uniquely accessible community playground where disabilities will disappear and the five elements of play would be available to all children,” Fausnaught said, detailing the history of the project.

He shared that Beth and Spencer Sweeting, who have since moved from the area, originally had a vision for the playground, which they took to two members of the Williamsport Kiwanis Club, Dawn Astin and Gerry Fausnaught, who in turn presented the project to the local service organization which accepted the proposal.

“I was asked to chair the committee and as we discussed the magnitude of this undertaking and the amount of money needed, we decided it would be great if it actually became a community project,” Fausnaught said.

The Williamsport Rotary Club and the Williamsport School District nd the district’s Education Foundation were asked to join the effort.

Fundraising for the project began in January, 2019 and as of March this year, $430,980 had been raised.

“That was from donations from individuals, businesses, civic groups and nonprofit grants. Included in that amount was $125,000 given to us by the Lycoming County Commissioners,” Fausnaught said.

Fausnaught added that the monies from the commissioners really “launched our fundraising project and gave us the incentive and a great feeling about where we were going with this thing.”

Since March, the committee has added another $62,737 in funds for the project and is looking to raise another $33,000 in order to install rubber surfacing for the entire playground, which would be less messy and safer than the traditional mulch, and easier for wheelchairs to navigate the surface.

“We’re really excited about that and remember all the fundraising took place during the pandemic, which makes it even more amazing to me,” Fausnaught said. He added that a dedication of the new playground is planned for either the end of August or the beginning of September.

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