The phone calls are already coming in from parents wanting to know when the new playground structure at Zachary Youth Park will be completed.
Except for a canopy over the center of the structure and three for nearby picnic tables, the new addition to the park was finished once contractors poured the landing area March 27.
The $110,000 playground structure, modeled after Zachary Early Learning Center’s structure for prekindergartners, was part of capital outlay funding recently approved by the City Council, Zachary Youth Park Director Shane Hebert said.
The thickness of the structure’s landing area made from recycled tires is measured in relation to the fall height or the highest point of the structure, according to contractor Will Stirling, of No Fault Sports.
Hebert said the playground equipment meets all requirements set by the American National Standards Institute.
“We can’t keep kids off it,” said park staff member Dianne LeBlanc. “We’ve already had a few children play on it while their moms sat nearby on one of the benches. People are excited about it.” “We wanted to add something for families with children who don’t play baseball or softball or those who have kids too young to play,” Hebert said.
Though the Youth Park is considered primarily a baseball and softball complex with several grass fields and four synthetic turf fields, Hebert and LeBlanc say they’re trying to bring new events and features to the park for families to enjoy, such as the recent Easter egg hunt hosted by the Zachary Charity League that had about 90 children participating.
“Our goal is to find the right projects and the right organizations in which to partner. We’d provide use of the park’s facilities for their events,” Hebert said.
Events that have merely been discussed, not finalized, include a trunk and treat at Halloween event, movie night in the park and a car show.
Hebert said he’s not trying to change the Youth Park, but simply “broaden its appeal to more people.”
In addition to hosting high school and middle school baseball and softball games, the park is the base for Zachary Youth Baseball and Softball spring, summer and fall leagues.
“We’re registering now for youth softball, and youth baseball begins April 19,”LeBlanc said. “This spring, we’ve had the most kids sign up to play that we’ve ever had — 536 — who hail from the Zachary, Slaughter, St. Francisville, Clinton and Jackson areas. We also have 15 T-ball teams registered to play.”
Adult coed softball leagues and coaches pitch teams play their games at the park as well as some tournaments hosted by Capital City Baseball, formerly Marucci Elite; Legendz; SSSA; and the recent North vs. South Softball tournament hosted by St. Amant High School.
The Youth Park also allows other schools to occasionally host their games at the park when needed.
“We’re one of the only complexes around that has turfed fields, so when others get rained out, teams sometimes need a place to play,” LeBlanc said. “We let them set up their own gates and run their own concessions. Sometimes it’s just about being good neighbors and gracious hosts.”
LeBlanc said she and Hebert think alike, which is why they’ve been successful at organizing league and tournament play as well as new events. “Our No. 1 priority and focus is on the kids,” LeBlanc said.
A 12-month calendar mounted on the wall allows for the scheduling of practices, games and tournaments months in advance. LeBlanc and Hebert are assisted by a third park staff member, Rodney Williams, who oversees field maintenance.
Part of that capital outlay funding also will pay for a fifth turfed field, which has been advertised for bids. The new field is necessary because the park is losing a field with the road-widening construction underway on La. 64/East Mount Pleasant Road, Hebert said.
In December, about $1.4 million in Community Development Block Grant funding for recovery from damage sustained by hurricanes Gustav and Ike allowed for new improvements to the park, including the addition of a concrete front parking area, lot lighting, new park offices with conference room, and the addition of a roundabout, covered awning and sandbagging machine.
The roundabout will help guide motorists during storms or natural disasters when the park will be utilized as an emergency staging area for distribution of water, tarps, sandbags and other supplies.
The roundabout also will help with park traffic, Hebert said, and a Bronco statue and city, state and national flags have been added.
The Zachary Rotary Club has agreed to donate $1,000 in landscaping, which Hebert said will feature Double Knock Out roses, hedges and evergreens.
Since 2011, when Hebert took over as park director, many changes have been implemented.
“It’s been a challenging four years to say the least,” Hebert said, “but our goal is to simply make Zachary Youth Park the best park for our children, our community and those that visit it.”