When Belmont resident Matt Eagar was in high school in 1989, he helped build Joey’s Park, a playground facing Cross Street that honored the memory of a local 12-year-old boy who had died of cystic fibrosis.
When Eagar heard recently that the play facility was on its last legs, he volunteered to help with a six-day “barn-raising’’ to replace it. He was one of at least 2,000 local residents who participated in the community project, which culminated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. Monday, when hundreds of children broke through a paper chain to swarm onto the castle-like structure and play at the new Joey’s Park for the first time.
After the ceremony, the playground stayed open until 6 p.m. Monday, but it will remain closed for several more weeks while contractors finish site work.
Organizers and participants in the volunteer effort said they were overwhelmed by the community spirit and collaboration during the project.
“Kids tend to be cliquey, but [Joey] was always friends with all kinds of kids,” Eagar said, taking a break from sawing materials last Wednesday, the first day of the final construction phase. “It’s great to see people from all over the community come together regardless of who they usually hang out with.”
The park was closed briefly in 2011 after a safety review raised concerns about the equipment’s condition. It was reopened after some modifications, but community members began raising funds to completely reconstruct the playground. The old equipment was demolished on Aug. 5, and from Sept. 27 to Sept. 29 volunteers participated in a prebuild step, installing 220 support posts for the playground and building several features, such as benches, tables, a deck, and a pergola.
Starting last Wednesday, thousands of volunteers helped to construct the new playground. Diane Miller, architect and cochairwoman of Friends of Joey’s Park, said the new equipment retains the old nooks and crannies of the original park, but uses durable modern materials such as pressure-treated wood.
At the first day of the build , above the whine of power tools, Miller called the outpouring of volunteerism profound.
“A lot of people are taking time off work to volunteer and do this,” Miller said. “I keep getting caught up in whatever my task is, but then I’ll take a break and take in the scene. It’s phenomenal.”
During the build, 10 crew captains led teams of 10 volunteers during each shift. Each day was divided into three shifts, with some volunteers working 13-hour days during the build. Volunteers helped with tasks ranging from building the pyramid roofs that top the new playground to babysitting the “kids’ room,” where volunteers could leave their children while working on the project.
The event brought together families from the town’s Winn Brook and Wellington elementary schools, as well as volunteers from outside Belmont; it also drew participants of all ages, including elementary school students who cleaned tires and made paper chains for the ceremony, and middle school students who helped stain lumber, said Miller.
Sarah Griffith, a Belmont resident who volunteered to help with the children on Monday, said the rebuild project fostered community connections for her. She said she made a new friend at the groundbreaking ceremony when her 5-year-old and 4-year-old started playing with another woman’s children.
“This was a woman I never met before, and now I know her, and know her name. It was a real community moment,” said Griffith. “I definitely met new friends and took great pride in seeing friends out there.”
Several volunteers said they turned out for the rebuild because they had brought their children to the original park, and wanted to pay it forward to the next generation.
“I saw the announcement and thought it’s time to renew it, that’s great. A new generation of children’s come along,” said Alex Valentin, among the Belmont residents who helped build the original park in the 1990s. Valentin, who helped with tasks such as hanging the rope ladder on the new play gear, added, “Hopefully one day I’ll bring my grandkids here.”
Emily Cataneo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.