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Ahrens Park gets new, accessible playground equipment with help of community members

The Mega Tower will provide endless fun for Grinnell’s young (and not so young) citizens. Photo by Sarah Ruiz


The Mega Tower will provide endless fun for Grinnell’s young (and not so young) citizens. Photo by Sarah Ruiz

This week some Grinnellians may wish they were school-age kids again, and not only because the semester’s end means coursework is starting to pile up. Ahrens Park is getting some snazzy new playground equipment, including a massive new play structure called the Mega Tower.

Volunteers and park employees have worked over the past few weeks to install the equipment and expect to unveil it on Friday, May 25, when they will host a play day and celebration for second-graders at Grinnell’s elementary schools.

The new playground is part of a larger initiative to upgrade the facilities at Ahrens Park funded by the Ahrens Park Foundation, which oversees the equipment and operations of the park, the Claude W. & Dolly Ahrens Foundation, a separate foundation with a broader aim that often partners with the Ahrens Park Foundation on projects such as this, and individuals and organizations from the community.

The Ahrens Park Foundation decided to upgrade the playground equipment because it is almost 25 years old — the industry standard “life expectancy” for playground equipment — and was becoming difficult to maintain, according to Julie Gosselink, president and CEO of the Claude W. & Dolly Ahrens Foundation, co-chair of the fundraising committee for the Ahrens Park playground project and a Grinnell College trustee.

The newly upgraded playground will include two areas, one for children ages 3 to 5 and one for children ages 5 to 12. The area for older kids will include the highlight of the new playground, the Mega Tower, a two-story tall structure with six slides that promises endless fun. Other new equipment will include swings, a merry-go-round, a climbing wall and new rubber surfacing that is much safer than the current gravel surface. All of the playground equipment will come from Miracle Recreation Equipment, the playground equipment company that made Claude W. Ahrens himself most of his wealth. Gosselink said more details about the playground would be unveiled after all of the equipment is installed.

Gosselink said that another highlight of the new playground is that it will include handicapped accessible features.

“It’s pretty rare even here in Iowa to find handicapped accessible playground equipment for children, so this was something that we felt really strongly about being able to provide here at the park because we’re considered an all-around top facility … [and] that was one thing that we recognized was lacking, and so there are many features that will accommodate kids of all physical abilities,” Gosselink said.

Though the Claude W. & Dolly Ahrens Foundation usually uses their endowment to finance their charitable projects, Gosselink said the foundation decided to fundraise in the community for the playground and park improvement project due to a high level of community interest and the sheer scale of the project. Of the estimated $430,000 cost of upgrading the playground, Gosselink said the foundation set a goal of raising $150,000 in the community and raised about $100,000. She also said they saved $100,000 because volunteers were willing to install the new equipment.

Though Gosselink said the foundation was initially skeptical about fundraising in the community because they did not want to create the impression that they were running low on money, she said that in the end the board decided the community’s desire to be engaged in the project made them decide to fundraise.

“We’re seeing these … anonymous donor checks and individual donations [and] small donations kind of left and right for different projects that are happening at the park, and it was wonderful that there are people out there who want to help … so we really struggled as a board. We spent probably a year talking about this — do we go out and actively fundraise — because of the perception. We didn’t want anybody to think all of a sudden that now we’re in this desperate need for funds and we’re not [going to] give funds away anymore like we’ve always done [but] we’ve just felt that this was a great community project,” Gosselink said.

The money the foundation was able to raise from the community included a standard-sized donation from the College, Gosselink said.

“The College has been very supportive. We did receive a mini-grant from the College this last fall and it was in the amount of $4,000 … it was right in line with all of our other organizations and grant funds and businesses that supported the project, so we were very happy with the gift in that amount.”

Gosselink thanks the donors and volunteers in making the playground improvement project happen and said that it could not have been done without their help.

“I want to stress that our donors and our volunteers have really helped to make this project a success, and we’re so grateful and thankful for the support we have in the community … the goal with the foundation is to provide excellent first-class facilities so we get to enjoy this equipment and this area for another 25 years.”

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