Lowe's builds new playground for YWCA

(Originally published in the Telegraph on 7/21/08)

ALTON - A donated playground will spell safety and relief for children at the Alton YWCA unable to use the fitness club's outdoor equipment.

Staff from the Lowe's Home Improvement stores in Alton, Fairview Heights and Belleville began construction of a commercial-grade playground at 8 a.m. Monday. The volunteer crew - organized through the Lowe's Heroes Program - worked to remove 20 inches of rock from portions of a 1,200-square-foot fenced-in play area in order to plant wooden beams.

The parts came at no cost to the YWCA, and Lowe's managers and employees toiled for hours in the sun off the clock during a late-July heat wave.

"We thank Lowe's so much. Those poor people are melting in their shoes," YWCA Executive Director Mary Cox said. "I just think they deserve a medal. I wish we could find one for them. They were just awesome."

The previous outdoor equipment was not suitable for children.

"We had a playground out there, but it wasn't a playground: it was a fitness center," Cox said.

The jungle gym-like metal structure, known as the "body bars," retained enough heat during periods of hot weather to harm children.

"It just was not kid-friendly; the kids' little hands would blister," Cox said. "They couldn't hold on (to the bars). It looked like fun until they got on it, and then it wasn't much fun."

As a result, the YWCA staff, including Child Care Director Julie Delaney, began writing grant applications and requesting funds from local nonprofit organizations. The Alton Weed and Seed program pledged to give $5,000, and Godfrey Village Clerk Pamela Whisler found a group to donate the supplies necessary to construct a 4- to 6-inch foam rubber ground surface, but the donations still fell short of the cost to build a new playground, Cox said.

"We put a donation jar in the lobby, and one of the mothers saw it and saw there wasn't very much money in it," Cox said.

Heather Rush, an Alton resident whose husband, Wayne, works as an associate at Lowe's in Florissant, Mo., thought Lowe's might contribute to the cause. She raised her concerns with Wayne, who then pitched the idea to Lowe's. The project received approval from District Manager Mike Tyner. District Operations Manager Denise Noel filed paperwork with the Lowe's corporate office.

The play equipment - which includes steps, a platform, a roof and two slides - would have cost the club $6,600 for plastic parts, plus approximately $350 for lumber, Wayne Rush said. The $7,000 price tag would not include the labor to cement the wood poles in place and assemble the parts.

"I think it's going to be a good deal," Rush said. "I don't think without the (district managers') support, we could have gotten this done.

Members of Lowe's management are no strangers to organizing volunteer work.

"Our company does a ton of projects," said Tommy O'Brien, manager of Lowe's in Alton. "Everybody here is working on their own time."

Cox expects the playground's construction - complete with rubber matting for safety - will be completed soon.

"I hope the kids are playing on it by the end of the week," she said.

The YWCA does not plan to discard the body bars, donated several years ago by a Rotary Club, but will move them to their north parking lot, Cox said.