Bethlehem partnered with KABOOM! and the Pennsylvania Municipal League to create a playground in Fairview Park that is meant to foster a sense of community and belonging for local children.
KABOOM! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating kid-designed play spaces.
According to the KABOOM! website, their mission is to work to end playground inequity by coming into neighborhoods where kids don’t have access to these kinds of play structures.
In October, the city of Bethlehem hosted the annual Pennsylvania Municipal League Conference. Every year, the league collaborates with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to build a playground within the hosting city with the help of a grant from the department.
The new playground in Bethlehem replaced a worn-down structure with one that is modern and accessible.
Sara Satullo, the deputy director of community development for the city of Bethlehem, said it was up to the mayor and the city staff to identify a park that was in need of extra attention, love and a makeover.
“(The mayor) was hearing from residents that they love living in the city and they love their neighborhood,” Satullo said. “But this park is really sad and (residents) asked if he could do something about it.”
Fairview Park, located at Fourth and West Market streets, is the site of a former city school that was torn down and replaced with a playground. However, Satullo said it was mostly just asphalt and the equipment was more than 25 years old.
Satullo said there was a community design session at Calypso Elementary School that presented the opportunity for children and parents to look at different playground features and help design their “ideal” playground.
She said people were able to rank ideas for the playground and then KABOOM! made two potential playground renderings.
To improve the inclusivity of the playground, KABOOM! included play features that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including swings and interactive play features that are accessible from the ground.
Chibuzo Okuro, the community engagement leader for KABOOM!, said due to the park’s location at the center of a very populated residential area, the playground will have a positive impact on the community.
He said the new space includes the playground itself and sports courts that emphasize outdoor play.
“We are really hoping that this will revitalize the joy that comes from outdoor play,” Okuro said. “Especially now that kids spend a lot more time indoors, we can create more opportunities and encourage kids to participate in outdoor play.”
Okuro said KABOOM!’s goal is to reach out to communities that need support. The organization wants to choose places it can make a change and give kids an opportunity to engage in high-quality play.
Jodi Evans, the recreation director for the city of Bethlehem, said a project like this takes a lot of work and the last time a similar effort was taken was in 2011 at Higbee Park. She said it is hopefully something the city can do again another 10 years from now.
Due to the resources it requires to make such renovations, Evans said playground developments cannot feasibly happen every year.
She said this playground was built mostly by more than 100 volunteers.
“It was really cool to be a part of because I wondered in my head how all these people that really don’t have the expertise are going to make something like this happen,” Evans said. “Watching the KABOOM! organization delegate and organize it in a way that it happened over the course of a day was just amazing.”
Evans gave kudos to the public works department on how they were able to help execute the project as well.
She said the streets bureau, engineering bureau and grounds maintenance bureau put an “unbelievable amount of preparation hours” into the new park’s completion.
“This project really was a true testament to what can happen when you get people excited about something,” Evans said. “Giving people ownership of something where they want to help.”