DONALDSONVILLE — The city of Donaldsonville will be getting a new park this spring, in an all-volunteer community effort.
LSU biological engineering students are designing the project, which will be built on church grounds that were once a middle school playing field. The idea for the park is the brainchild of a team of this year’s Leadership Ascension class, a program of the Ascension Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ll have a community build of the park in April — we’re trying to pick a weekend now — and volunteers will work in two-hour segments to put playground equipment together,” said Jackie Tisdell, the Leadership Ascension team’s project manager.
“It’s truly been a group effort,” said Tisdell, who is also the public information officer for the Ascension Parish School Board.
LSU students and their professor, Marybeth Lima, met recently with elementary school students for their input to help them begin the design work for the park
“The first thing you have to do when you build a playground is you have to talk to experts,” Lima told about 20 children gathered at Donaldsonville Primary. “Y’all are the experts at play. Y’all know more about play than anybody here.”
The children from both Donaldsonville Primary and Lowery Elementary, sat at tables with sheets of drawing paper and markers, ready to offer their contributions to the park project.
“If you could have the playground of your dreams” what would it be? Lima asked.
Quentrell Smith, 9, of Lowery Elementary, said his dream playground would include a fun house with rides in it and a roller coaster.
Over the years, Lima’s students have designed and built more than 30 playrounds. She is the LSU Cliff and Nancy Spanier Alumni Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and director of LSU’s Center for Community Engagement, Learning and Leadership.
Tisdell credits Rick Bergeron, a member of her Leadership Ascension team and the Westside Patrol Division Captain for the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, with coming up with the vision for the park at the team’s first meeting.
The Leadership Ascension program builds future leaders of the parish, who, working in teams, complete projects to benefit the community.
Bergeron said the idea came to him when another member of the team suggested they do something for the West Bank of the parish.
“I’ve patrolled the city of Donaldsonville for 27 years. As a patrolman, it was very hard to tell children not to play in the street. How do you stop a child when they’re at play?” said Bergeron, a resident of Donaldsonville, who’s also the Sheriff’s Office patrol commander for the city.
Residential streets are a common playground for children in Donaldsonville when they’re not in school.
The Leadership Ascension team that’s guiding the park project is in the process of raising $50,000 for playground equipment and a walking path.
Tisdell said $35,000 had been raise as of Friday, with major contributions from donors that include Potash Corp., St. Elizabeth Hospital, Methanex, BASF and the Ascension Parish Sheriffs Office.
In addition to Tisdell and Bergeron, other team members are Cindy Babin, Scott Bradshaw, Kevin Chenier, Daniel Domangue, Chris Irvine, Charla Johnson and Trinette Reyard.
A parish park, located off La. 3089, was created in 2011 on the eastern side of the city and offers ball fields and a splash park. The parish bought the property from the nonprofit South Louisiana State Fair Inc.
The new park coming will be on church grounds in a residential area on Catalapa Street on the western side of Donaldsonville.
The large, open grassy area to be turned into the playground is a former middle school that’s now the campus of The Church at Donaldsonville, which moved there from another location in the city in January this year.
Its pastor, the Rev. Fitzpatrick Pitts, said the church has turned the main building of the old Lowery Middle School into a 200-seat sanctuary and another building into a children’s center.
Elsewhere in Donaldsonville, the church operates a men’s home, helping men recovering from addiction to return to work and the community, and also provides a church ministry to the Ascension Parish Jail near Donaldsonville.
Pitts said the church was happy to partner in the park when Bergeron asked.
“They have the resources, we have the property. As a church, we want to be involved in the civic activities as well as the spiritual,” Pitts said.
He said the church will assume the day-to-day maintenance of the park grounds.
After meeting with the school children, Lima and the LSU students drove out to The Church at Donaldsonville to see the grounds. Students Shane Vallery and Daniel Darison said the area was bigger than they thought it would be.
“We realized we have a lot more room to work with. That’s very good,” said Darison.
Lima and the LSU students will be analyzing the children’s drawings, to begin designing the park, and will come back to speak with the students again to get more input.
“We try to look for what makes a community unique. Every playground should and can be different, because every community is different,” Lima said.