Plans move ahead to improve Souderton playground

By Emily Morris,
Reprinted from the Souderton Independent

Souderton Park
Gerry Clemmer, pastor of Souderton Mennonite Church, Jen Ruggiero, and Tara Cupitt stand inside the gazebo at the playground at Chestnut Street and Wile Avenue in Souderton. They are working to revitalize the park through fundraising events in the Souderton community. Souderton Independent photo - SUSAN KEEN

Plans to improve the public playground at Chestnut Street and Wile Avenue in Souderton are moving along, with a group of volunteers working on the project hoping to tag on to some of the momentum of the borough’s 125th anniversary.

“We’re partnering together and inviting the community to join us in this project,” said Gerry Clemmer, pastor of Souderton Mennonite Church.

Clemmer and fellow volunteers Tara Cupitt and Jennifer Ruggiero, both neighbors of the playground, are working under the name Chestnut Street Playground Community CARES to bring new, safer equipment to replace the aging existing features at the park. In addition, they’ll be refurbishing the gazebo that sits in the park.

The small corner playground, which has been there as long as anyone at the church can remember, Clemmer said, has not been updated in years, housing largely old steel equipment. Clemmer said the church donated one newer piece of equipment in 1999, which still exists and would remain as part of the plan. That was the last time the park was updated.

One of the primary goals is to create a safe and accessible playground for the numerous children who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the playground.

“The neighborhood is filled with school age kids,” Cupitt said.

To meet the safety goal, one of the key elements will be handicapped accessible equipment, including swings. There will also be a music station, which is an interactive piece of playground equipment that is appealing to all children, but also particularly good for children with autism and Asperger’s, Ruggiero said.

“Our goal is to encompass all children that might have some kind of disability,” Ruggiero said.

In addition, the playground will be designed to appeal to a wide age range, rather than just smaller children as the equipment does now. The goal is to get a larger playground structure that will appeal to those aged 7 to 12, and several other pieces to meet the age ranges below that. The playground is also visited regularly by children from the nearby Head Start program and other nearby nursery and preschool programs.

Cupitt, whose sons are 12 and 14, said her sons often go to the park to play football or baseball in the field below, and that field will remain for those purposes.

The group is currently working with the borough’s engineering firm, Boucher & James, to analyze the park property and create a master plan that can then be used to work on fundraising for the new equipment. Plans for the new park may include improvement of grading so that it is more accessible for both children or parents who may be in wheelchairs or handicapped in other ways.

Fundraising will be a key part of the project in the coming months, Ruggiero said. The goal is to raise a minimum of $65,000, though the group has plans that could incorporate more elements if more funding is raised. The group will be reaching out to larger companies in the area, along with smaller businesses, which may be able to support the project in other ways. For example, Ruggiero said, Action Karate recently donated the profits from the sale of gis — the outfits its students wear for karate — to the playground project.

The group is looking for large structure sponsors at $20,000 or more, smaller structure sponsors of $10,000 or more, $5,000 for a handicapped accessible swingset, $1,000 for the merry-go-round and spring rider, $500 for picnic tables and benches and $250 for trees and landscaping. Sponsorships over $500 will have their names placed on a recognition board in the park. Ruggiero said several businesses have already expressed interest in helping, including Moyer Indoor Outdoor, which has said it will help to maintain the trees and landscaping in the playground. Plans for the playground will preserve the existing trees.

For individual fundraising, the group hopes to have a number of events that may include a pancake breakfast and basket Bingo, and it will be hosting a block party in conjunction with the June 23 parade that will be part of the Souderton 125th celebration this summer.

The group hopes to begin fundraising in earnest after receiving a final plan for the park to show potential donors. The borough has said it will pull out some of the older pieces of equipment beginning in the spring, Ruggiero said, and the new equipment could be purchased piece by piece as money is raised. The goal is for the project to be completed by early fall.

“What we’re really wanting to do with this is to build a sense of community,” Ruggiero said.

Donations to the playground can be made Attention: Chestnut Street Playground to Souderton Mennonite Church, 105 W. Chestnut St., Souderton PA 18964 or Souderton Borough, 31 W. Summit, St., Souderton PA 18964. Checks and donations should note that they are to be earmarked for the playground project.

To learn more about the playground project or get involved, contact Pastor Gerry Clemmer, Tara Cupitt, or Jennifer Ruggiero.

© 2012 Montgomery News, a Journal Register Property; Reprinted by permission.