A labor of love all over again

Volunteers, some still inspired by working on project 11 years ago, regroup to give Port’s accessible Possibility Playground a $250,000 makeover

WORK TO RESURFACE and expand Possibility Playground in Port Washington was set to begin Wednesday. The surface of the playground has been patched repeatedly during the past 11 years. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Jerry Baganz of Port Washington worked on Possibility Playground when the community built the play area for children of all abilities in 2008 and said it captured his heart.

“I definitely feel an affinity for the playground,” he said. “It’s such an incredibly happy place.”

So when Mardy McGarry, a retired special education teacher who spearheaded the Possibility Playground project with Sue Mayer, asked if he could help out with a project for the playground’s $250,000 rebuild that begins this week, Baganz quickly said yes.

The project was a replica of the bandshell in Veterans Park, which will house a number of new musical instruments when it’s installed later this month. The contractor had drawn up plans for the structure but didn’t realize how complex it was with all the curves that make up the arched structure.

“Mardy called me and asked me to meet with him,” Baganz recalled. “It’s turned into a much bigger project.”

Baganz turned to a group of friends, retired men who attend his church, Living Hope Lutheran Church in Saukville, for help. They are now building the interior of the bandshell, while the contractor will build the structure around it.

The men, who Baganz jokingly refers to as Old Curmudgeon Development, or OCD, have spent months building the structure in Baganz’s storage shed in the Town of Port Washington.

“We’ve all banded together and said, ‘Let’s get this thing done,’” he said. “It’s a wonderful cause. Many of these men have a great deal of skill, and this gives all of us an opportunity to use those skills productively.”

Baganz estimated the men have spent 350 to 400 hours on the project, painstakingly putting together 850 pieces to create the bandshell.

“Our goal is to finish this week, recover next week and then help with the build at the end of September,” he said.

“These men have given their hearts and souls to this,” McGarry said. “It’s so intricate. It’s a real building. It’ll be such an icon.” 

Instruments children can play with their hands, including emperor chimes and several types of drums, will be located around the bandshell. 

Their work, in turn, helped inspire Port Washington State Bank to donate $25,000 to pay for the bandshell in honor of the bank’s 120th anniversary.

Bank President and CEO Steve Schowalter said he met with Baganz and was impressed by what he saw.

“I was deeply impressed by the great lengths Jerry and his team were taking to build the replica, and it reminded me of our own team’s talent and dedication,” he said.

The bank previously sponsored a fire truck at the playground, Schowalter said, adding, “It’s such a nice resource for the community.”

His son James, the bank’s senior vice president and chief credit officer, said it’s part of the fabric of the community.

“Whether it’s a softball game on a Saturday in spring or a visit to a park with your kids after a hard day’s work, these are timeless traditions that I want our children to have.”

Spending time at Possibility Playground has become a tradition for many families in Port since it was built by community members over a six-day period in 2008. 

As it became apparent the surface needed to be replaced this year, the playground organizers took a look around and realized it was time to refresh the area, McGarry said. A donation by local philanthropist Shirli Flack kicked off the effort.

In addition to the bandshell, these features include a colorful Loch Ness Monster called Nessie that will greet visitors at the entrance to the playground, a new twisty slide with a treehouse atop it, a wheelchair accessible merry-go-round, a double-sided, covered bench and a variety of new activity panels. 

City crews closed the park on Wednesday to remove the surface of the playground, and work on the various projects will be done from Sept. 24 to 28. 

Once again, the work will be done by community volunteers. Volunteer coordinator Melissa Niemeyer said three crews a day will work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with about 30 volunteers needed for each shift.

“Our last build was so big,” she said, noting that there were 150 people per shift needed then. “This is much smaller.”

People have been volunteering, she said, but more are needed to fill unskilled and skilled — defined as people who are willing to run power tools — slots.

“None of our shifts are closed yet, but we have people signed up for each shift,” Niemeyer said, adding that a number of students involved in Port High’s Port Pride initiative are expected to join the work crews. Volunteers must be 14 and older.

A number of those who signed up participated in the last build, Niemeyer said, and there are also a number of people who have worked on other accessible playgrounds.

Many of those other playgrounds were inspired by Possibility Playground, McGarry said.

“When we first suggested this, people didn’t really get what we wanted to do or why,” McGarry said. “We built it and they said, ‘Ahh, I get it now.’ People love this playground. They want to be part of it. It’s used every day.

“And we inspired a lot of people who said, ‘If they can do this, we can do this.’”

To volunteer, visit possibilityplayground.org and click on the volunteer link.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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