Here’s something you don’t hear about every day — shipping an entire playground. But thanks to some kind-hearted folks in St. Matthews, Brown Park’s former playground, which was set to be replaced, is now making days a little brighter for children living in poverty in Belize. Belize is a small country located on the Caribbean coast in Central America.
The idea came from Ed Davis of E-Z Construction. After being awarded the bid to work on the park improvements, he asked the city about donating the old equipment, rather than it being demolished. He had been to Belize previously on a missions trip with Hand in Hand Ministries of Louisville and saw the severe poverty there. Of course, the city “would have been willing” to donate, says Kenan Stratman, Director of Public Works for the City of St. Matthews.
“The Mayor was in the meeting and excited about the opportunity,” Stratman says. “Davis found a donor in Texas to ship the playground, and it went from Louisville to Texas to Belize. E-Z sent a foreman to Belize to reconstruct the playground. It wasn’t damaged, just worn, and time for a new one.”
Stratman adds that the playground is now “the largest playground in Belize, even though it was just run of the mill here.”
The playground includes small slides, a bridge, glider and corkscrew climber.
Meanwhile, at Brown Park, the new playground and new restrooms are finished, so the entire project is complete.
“The new footprint is twice as large, with several free-standing play structures, an artificial turf mound, a single unit playhouse with mailbox designs, like a post office, earth mound, buddy rocker, similar to a see-saw, dome climber and ten spin,” Stratman says.
Stratman describes the ten spin as “a new-age merry go round, but it is designed to sit or stand and spin self.” Panels that look like a pilot’s controls and a bank teller will also be added to the playhouse, along with a feature that looks like a lemonade stand.
There’s also a musical component that kids can play, and a Cabesa, “like a spinning wheel that makes music,” Stratman adds.
The main focal point structure has a vine climber ladder, two slides, a bumper ladder and a rock-climbing wall.
The City wanted the new park features to be suitable for a larger age range of kids. The older one was more for younger children ages 2-5 years, “the new one has components for older kids, too,” says Stratman, adding it is for “ages 2-12 years.” And in keeping with a nature theme in colors of greens and browns, rather than traditional bright colors, “it’s more a fit to the park.”
Inclusivity was important as well. The playground has “lots of equipment suited for children with different types of capabilities, some low to the ground for wheelchairs and users with disabilities. The surface is wheelchair accessible — a pour in place rubber surface, not wood chips,” Stratman says.
The reservation pavilion roof was also replaced, and four unisex restrooms were added, replacing port a potty restrooms. A new water fountain was installed, and all should be fully operating now.
The new restrooms are unique in that they are pre-made structures by Hunter Knepshield in LaGrange, constructed there and delivered on two trucks in halves, set by crane, then the plumbing connected.
Stratman managed the project and selected the components along with Mayor Richard Tonini and the park committee. The design was by the Carman company from Lexington. Design began in February 2018, with construction starting March 2019 and lasting about three months.
Future plans include replacing and upgrading the park’s walking trails, but there’s no timeline yet for that project.
The playground improvements had a personal interest for Stratman as well. He grew up in Louisville and went to school at Saint Xavier. He studied civil engineering at the University of Kentucky and then worked as an engineering consultant with HDR, where the City of St Matthews was a client. He came to work for the City in 2015.
The park, located off Kresge Way, was donated to the City by the James Graham Brown family in 1977. The park is well-known for hosting holiday events each year. Halloween in Brown Park is a “long tradition,” says Stratman, and has more than 5,000 kids attending each year. This year it will be held Saturday, October 26 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Light Up St. Matthews is scheduled for Saturday, December 7, with Santa set to arrive at 3 p.m.