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Where is the public input for building the new Kids Kastle?: Editorial

Posted 5/1/19

Twenty-six years ago today, on May 1, 1993, hundreds of volunteers were in the middle of a five-day effort to build Kids Kastle.

The play area at Hoffer Park was the brainchild of three Middletown …

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Where is the public input for building the new Kids Kastle?: Editorial

Posted

Twenty-six years ago today, on May 1, 1993, hundreds of volunteers were in the middle of a five-day effort to build Kids Kastle.

The play area at Hoffer Park was the brainchild of three Middletown women — Kathy Brant, Kim Vulatic and Brenda Crawford. But it took the community to make it happen. 

It was a grassroots, citizen-driven effort. The Press & Journal in the days prior to construction was peppered with fundraising updates on the project, which had a goal of $70,000.

With the money raised by the spring of 1993, the organizers asked for volunteers to help build it from April 28 to May 2, and the community responded.

“Suffering from severe losses in its employment base and a general business malaise, Middletown was in a poor position to answer appeals for support to build something so frivolous as a special children’s playground, detractors pointed out. It would be better to wait for a more propitious moment, they suggested, when national and local economic conditions would be more favorable,” a Press & Journal editorial from May 19, 1993 stated. “But the members of the Kids Kastle Committee weren’t to be discouraged. They pressed ahead with their plans, despite some disappointments and some discouraging moments. They finally succeeded, because, somewhere along the way, they finally managed to breathe some of their enthusiasm into the community.”

In the second week of May 1993, it opened.

“A week ago Monday night as we watched the newly completed Kids Kastle welcome its first wave of excited children, we were elated at the enthusiastic greeting each new group of children bestowed on this fabulous new playground — the kind of greeting youngsters usually reserve for their favorite cartoon characters,” the May 19 editorial said.

Nothing lasts forever, however. Last June, after just more than 25 years, Kids Kastle was shut down because of safety issues. Its fundraising pickets that line the outside of the structure are being returned. It will be razed, and a new structure built to modern construction codes — and to meet government requirements for handicapped accessibility, which have changed considerably in 25 years — will replace it.

It lived a wonderful life, bringing joy to tens of thousands of people.

We realize you can’t re-create the past. But it’s hard to ignore that, unlike the early 1990s, there has been very little public input sought for plans to build a new Kids Kastle.

Details about what it will look like have been sparse. Plans have been put together by officials led by Mayor James H. Curry III and Council Vice President Mike Woodworth with input from companies that specialize in such designs, but no public meetings have been held to get any input from the very people who will use it.

Curry promised last fall something unlike “any other playground in the world,” with a design featuring cooling towers to represent Three Mile Island, a tower to represent Harrisburg International Airport, and other state-of-the-art equipment items that would represent the Middletown Volunteer Fire Company and the Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad.

It sounds great. But is it necessary? Will it make the play experience better for the children of Middletown and the surrounding area?

In a previous editorial, we supported the creative way in which the borough will try to pay for the new Kids Kastle. The borough wants to use $436,000 it received years ago from the state Department of Community and Economic Development toward a matching grant via the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The total would bring in more than $900,000 for the project.

To put things in perspective, the total cost of the new playground — including site excavation, equipment, and supporting features such as park benches and security lighting — is estimated at $924,205. That’s a far cry from the $70,000 raised in 1993.

According to Lori Yeich, recreation and conservation manager with DCNR’s central Pennsylvania regional office, “public input is really important” in the DCNR’s decision to award grants.

What has the borough done to get that input?

With plans already having been reviewed by council and a consensus seemingly in place, there appears to be little chance for the public to have a say. We still encourage the council to hold a public meeting on the new playground, to at least allow for some extended resident discussion about it.

“More than a special playground for our children, the Kids Kastle should really be regarded as a monument to the spirit of Middletown and its indomitable people,” stated our editorial from May 19, 1993.

It’s hard to say what the legacy of a new Kids Kastle will be. But the public should have a part in helping shape it from the beginning.