Construction of East Rock playground completed

The newest attraction at East Rock Park includes newly-finished wood planking, vivid colors and a life-sized spider web — and it is attracting 5-year-old local adventurers.

Community members gathered Saturday to finish construction of a new playground at East Rock Park. Neighborhood residents, along with other community volunteers, assembled the play equipment by hand over a weeklong construction process. But preceding the construction, East Rock residents spent months browsing catalogs and architectural plans before choosing the design.

Last week, nearly 50 people turned out to break ground on the project. A playground installation company official was also on hand to supervise the work.

The new playground replaces an older, under-utilized and deteriorating set of equipment. Following a recent assault in the park, community residents wanted to stop further deterioration by bringing back the crowds for whom the park was intended.

“There weren’t enough people coming into the playground,” said Tom Holahan, co-coordinator of the event.

Holahan is also a former president of Friends of East Rock Park, the neighborhood organization formed in the early 1970s as a watchdog group that tracked potentially harmful zoning in the area and worked to preserve the park.

City resident Joe Puleo said the new playground is already attracting more people to the park, thanks to its size and bright colors that make it more visible from the roads.

“This is the third reiteration of the playground,” said Bob Schmalz, a former New Haven alderman.

Schmaltz said the community built a playground 30 years ago and refurbished it 15 years later. When that playground started to splinter, area residents began to talk about the latest improvements.

City officials agreed to budget $75,000 for the project. Supplies and labor, however, were estimated at $90,000. Rather than compromise the scale of the project, the community members opted to eliminate labor fees by building it themselves.

Community volunteers broke down into three teams, each of which was responsible for building a section of the project. All the pieces came together to produce the recreational facility aimed at rejuvenating the park by attracting children and families.

Additional volunteers came from the University of New Haven’s Brothers and Sisters Club. About a half dozen students were on hand to help out.

“We try to talk about community outreach,” club advisor Alick Letang said. “So they heard about the project and wanted to help.”

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