Volunteers turn out to build new El Dorado playground

Organizers thought they might need the whole day to build a new public playground, but by 10 a.m. nearly 100 volunteers had assembled and installed most of the equipment and were prepping for the final stages of construction.

“They are going a lot faster than we thought they would,” said Nijah Fudge, a management intern for the city of El Dorado who organized the volunteer build and wrote the grant applications that helped pay for the playground.

About 150 volunteers had signed up to install the Martin Playground, named after a longtime El Dorado businessman and community volunteer, Keith Martin.

Martin died last year.

It was an appropriate place to permanently attach Martin’s name to, considering volunteers were installing the equipment and materials for the 3,500-square-foot playground, all $70,000 of which was paid for through donations and grants.

“It’s a real sense of community,” said Mayor Tom McKibban, while taking a break from the volunteer build. “We’re a town full of volunteers.”

The idea for the playground, just north of the BG Products Veterans Memorial Sports Complex at 400 S. Haverhill Road, started with the planning of the sports complex. And Fudge said it really got started with a donation of more than $18,000 from Connell & Connell, a longtime local law firm that wanted to make a donation in Martin’s name.

“When the funding came from the memory of Keith Martin, we knew this should be the way to go,” Fudge said.

Martin, said son-in-law Marv Loucks, helped start youth football in the area, coached Little League teams, volunteered as a high school and college referee and was a Butler Community College trustee.

“Keith was a big part of the community,” Loucks said.

The combination of the Connell donation and a $15,000 grant from Kaboom, a national nonprofit whose mission is to create play spaces for kids through community participation, assured the playground’s construction.. The first grant request was declined. “So we rewrote the grant,” Fudge said. The city also received grants from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Felix A. Cantrell Trust, which helped to make the playground ADA-compliant and wheelchair accessible, she said.

Tabitha Sharp, El Dorado city clerk, was one of the 100 or so people volunteering in two shifts on Saturday.

“I just like to try to volunteer in our city and help get things done,” Sharp said. “I have a lot of nieces and nephews who use the playgrounds all over the city. Why not help give them one more?”

And because of the quick work of volunteers, the playground was completed by 1:30 p.m.

“We had to wait an hour and a half for the (opening) ceremony,” Fudge said.