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If you build it, they will come: Orion's new playgrounds



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April 16, 2014 - Special Guest Column

By Chris Barnett

We've all heard about best-laid plans. For a project from start to finish that was laden with curiosity and weather delays, it could not have ended better. On a 60-ish degree glorious day last Saturday, we cut the ribbon and opened our new, much anticipated play structure, Dragons Den. The only thing that didn't go as planned during our grand opening was keeping the kids off the playground until it was actually officially open. 

It all started last year with a routine safety inspection and turned into a full-fledged teardown and rebuild. The original wooden structure, built in 1996, largely with monetary donations and a volunteer workforce was literally rotting away. Our Buildings and Ground crew, led by Jeff Stout and Aaron Whatley, began to systematically disassemble and close sections that were no longer safe for children to use. It got to a point where it was becoming more of an eyesore, than an attraction. The Saturday the main structure was disassembled by large machinery was a sad day. I met two families who had driven, one from Royal Oak and one from Fenton, to play on our beloved castle. I won't forget the look on the children's faces as they peered though the gaps in the temporary fencing as the machines created a huge pile of rubble. I also won't forget the young girl, whose mom told me she was preparing to write me a "strongly worded letter".

Thankfully for all involved, Saturday was a brighter day! The sun shined and nearly 400 not-so-patient customers were on hand as we opened the awesomest (that is a word, right?) playground around. With nearly three times the play elements of the previous wooden behemoth, and three 25' Mega-Towers this thing has it all. The structure was designed by a committee of Orion staff and volunteers and feedback from some of our pickiest clients (the kids). My personal favorite and must-have was Mt. Kilimanjaro, a mini replica of the real one that stands 8' tall. Also, there are six high-speed slides, some of which were safety tested by yours truly, in a business suit. The crowd favorite on Saturday appeared to be the new merry-go-round. Four children from Lake Orion schools—Dawson Wolf of Carpenter Elem., Teagan and Madyson Walters of Webber Elem., and Elizabeth Reginek of Paint Creek Elem.— whose name "Dragon's Den" was chosen from over 170 unique entries were also on hand to cut the ribbon.

Not only did we cut the ribbon, we announced our partnership with local non-profit Sister Souls, Inc. to build a first of it's kind playground geared completely for special needs children. "Let Them Play" will be built directly across the sidewalk from Dragon's Den and will include many unique elements including swings for wheelchairs. This project fits perfect in our community full of LOve for all, and the initial response has been overwhelming. Funding for the new addition will be completely by donation and fundraisers. While merely more than an idea, we have already garnered nearly $10,000 of the $50,000 required to make it happen. Bricks, benches, and other items are available to purchase here: www.letthemplay.eventbright.com or tax deductible monetary donations can be made as well. Please consider joining us to make this dream a reality. 

Thank you to the countless people who made these projects possible, Kimberly Casper and Stacy Brackon of Sister Souls, and Dragon Den coordinators Adam Peelish, Larry Mullins, Eric Tyson, David Crabtree, Mike MacDonald, David Tooley, and of course the residents, mainly the kids, for being so patient.

In the meantime, I'll see you at the Den!

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