[04/03/08] Though they weren't all professionally skilled in the ways of sawing, hammering or concrete work, there were helping hands aplenty in downtown Vicksburg Wednesday and this morning, making their contributions to building the community's newest playground.
In a combined effort from Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg, Leathers and Associates and community volunteers, the support beams were set in place for the Playground at Catfish Row, which is to be completed Sunday.
About 300 volunteers showed up for the first shift at the site on Mulberry Street south of LD's Kitchen and adjacent to the city-run Art Park at Catfish Row, and about 300 more were expected today, JA members said.
"We're really off to a great start," said the project's architect, Michael Thomas of Leathers and Associates.
Thomas said the company, which has specialized in designing and planning community-built playgrounds since 1971, takes on 60 to 80 projects each year nationally and internationally. So far, he has been impressed with the River City.
"We have good organization, friendly people and we're having a good time working," he said Wednesday afternoon.
"But we could use some more volunteers," he added. "And you don't have to be a skilled carpenter by any means. We just need people willing to help."
With construction continuing through Sunday, JA member Bess Averett said about 100 volunteers can be put to work for each of the remaining shifts. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, work will start at 8 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and meals will be provided. Catering the event Wednesday were Rusty's Riverfront Cafe and Ameristar.
"Even if you haven't signed up yet, please come," Averett said. "We're having a great time and this is a great cause."
Progress on day one was good.
"It's amazing what the community has come together to do," said Megan Buckner, a JA member and organizer of the project. "Everything's been perfect so far."
Wednesday's volunteers came in all ages. Retirees, workers taking the day off and high school students all donated their time to the cause.
"This has been an amazing thing to be a part of," said 17-year-old Warren Central High School senior Katie Davis, daughter of Douglas and Erin Davis. Katie, who was one of 39 National Honor Society students from the school working the morning shift Wednesday, said her duties included hauling wood, soaking screws and cleaning up. "I definitely plan to be back later this week."
Sponsors for the National Honor Society, Jessica Libbey and Karla McHan, said different portions of the honor society have separately participated in volunteer projects year-round.
"But this was a project big enough for everyone in the group to participate at the same time," McHan said. "Plus it's something that's here for them to see and something they can come back to later in life and remember taking part in it."
Averett said more tools are needed, including 3/8-inch drills, orbital jigsaws, routers, electronic impact wrenches, speed squares and splitters. Averett added that any donated tools will be locked up and protected by 24-hour security, and a cataloguing system will be used to make sure the tools aren't misplaced.
Though the community's portion of the construction ends Sunday, the playground won't be open for a few more weeks, pending placement of rubberized foundation material and landscaping. At its completion, the riverboat-themed playground will include slides, an obstacle course, fire pole, cradle climber and rubber bridge. The playground will also be handicapped-accessible, making it Vicksburg's first, and was designed by students who gathered in February 2007 to share thoughts on how they'd like the area to look.
Planning and fundraising for the project have been under way for more than a year. The land was given to JA by the city to continue revitalizing City Front. The Warren County Board of Supervisors has said it would support the project with up to $5,000. Other funds have been garnered through private donations and various efforts, such as a communitywide garage sale, placing signs in yards and selling bricks, pickets and handprint tiles that will complete the playground design -- in addition to allowing individuals to add a personalized touch.
A gap of about $20,000 is left to complete the project that has reached about $200,000 in costs, Buckner said Wednesday.
The idea is similar to projects around Mississippi, such as Avent Park in Oxford and Planet Playground in Meridian, where residents came out in droves to see a playground became a reality.
And now it's Vicksburg's turn.
"This is a great thing to be a part of," Buckner said. "I'm very proud of our community."
If you go
Work shifts begin at 8 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the construction site on Mulberry Street, east of the Art Park at Catfish Row. Volunteers can sign up at the check-in tent across from LD's Kitchen.