GENEVA — Dozens of adults and children crowded around St. Francis-St. Stephen School’s brand-new playground Oct. 29 as some of the season’s first snowflakes lightly drifted to the ground. Adults and children alike were bundled up in winter coats, hats and gloves against the cold, but the children seemed insulated from the elements by their barely restrained excitement.
“We thank the Lord for the many people who have made this possible and the many people who will enjoy it in the days and years to come. May the Lord bless us as we use this facility,” Father Roy Kiggins said as he sprinkled holy water on the new playground and the children anxious to try it out.
Father Kiggins is pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva. St. Stephen Church, one of the parish’s two worship sites, backs up against the new playground, which lies between the school and High Street.
After Father Kiggins blessed the playground, three St. Francis-St. Stephen students stretched a ribbon in front of it and a half-dozen of the playground’s benefactors snipped the ribbon as the crowd let out a raucous cheer.
“Playtime!” announced Jane Mosser, chairperson of the A Playground for Our Kids Campaign, and suddenly the green turf was flooded with color as throngs of screaming children rushed toward the playground in a stampede. Some children jumped and rolled on the artificial turf while others clambered onto the playground equipment and waited to rush down slides and venture down a twisted firepole.
The children’s excitement had been building since the middle of the 2005-06 school year, when the school’s outdated wooden playground was torn down. The students had enjoyed that playground, but there were a few things they didn’t miss about it, including splinters, blisters from rough wood and bee stings, sixth-grader Madison Maher said during a grand-opening ceremony indoors before the blessing of the playground.
The old playground did not have an open-air design, Mosser said, and thus local teens had occasionally used the area for nonplay and sometimes illegal activities, much to the chagrin of the school community. The structure obviously needed to be replaced, but its removal left a void in the lives of many students and neighborhood children.
“Every morning for the past three years our moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles have dropped us off at the High Street crosswalk. After greeting Tony the crossing guard, we have walked past an empty lot filled with gravel and stones,” Madison said.
In the absence of a playground, students instead jumped rope and played tag at recess, and neighborhood children sometimes ran around in the empty lot during the summer, Principal Elaine Morrow said during the grand-opening ceremony. Students and neighborhood children alike now have a new, safe place to play, she said.
“There will be no fence, and this playground will provide an area of play not just for our students during their recess and before and after school, but more importantly, for the neighborhood children on their vacations from school,” Morrow said. “The purpose of this project was to support the Geneva community and our neighborhood. St. Francis-St. Stephen and Our Lady of Peace Parish want to be good neighbors.”
“Our new playground is not only a great addition for our school, but also a gift for our neighbors and our community,” Madison added. “I hope everyone enjoys the new playground as much as the St. Francis-St. Stephen School community does.”
The playground also has several components accessible to children with disabilities, so hopefully it will be a special place where children with special needs will be able to participate and feel welcome, Mosser said.
Mosser and the other campaign-committee members spent several years securing grants and donations from a number of local and national businesses, charities and individuals. Meanwhile, St. Francis-St. Stephen school continued to raise money for the playground through bake sales, chicken barbecues and raffles, and the students brought in pennies from their own piggy banks.
“Every one of these individuals and organizations is a champion of youth. To them we extend our deepest and most sincere gratitude. It is through their generosity and support that this playground, which was once only a dream, is now a reality,” Mosser said.
The project’s total price tag was $80,000, Mosser said. The first phase of the project, which included the installation of the turf, the playground apparatus and two benches, cost $60,000, she said. The committee is still accepting donations for the second phase, she noted, which will include the landscaping of the area around the playground, the addition of picnic tables and benches, and the installation of a new lighting system.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Donations to the playground fund are tax deductible. Checks may be made out to St. Francis-St. Stephen School and may be mailed to the school at 17 Elmwood Ave., Geneva, NY 14456, Attn: playground. For more information, contact the school at 315-789-1828.