On Saturday morning, the East Falls community celebrated the grand opening of a playground that’s been about six years in the making.
With the help of Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., donations and several fundraisers put on by a few dedicated moms, Inn Yard Park’s new playground on Ridge Avenue was finally put into full swing.
Alice Reiff, president and founder of the Friends of Inn Yard Park, thanked Jones with a hug and added, “it’s been a long battle to keep this park green.”
Laura Eyring, who has since moved from the neighborhood, was part of the initial five-family movement for a new playground.
“All communities need a general gathering place,” she said, explaining why she felt the need to become — and stay — involved.
Jones, a key player in making sure the playground was built, said the playground transforms the park “from a scary place to a town square,” citing that a tree line used to box the field in, whereas parents typically like to be able to see all of their surroundings.
At Saturday’s ceremony, he recalled the day he first heard of the idea for a community playground.
“The planning committee strategically came to my office with mothers and children in strollers,” said Jones. “That had an immediate effect on me. It was the most compelling thing they could have done.”
Inn Yard Park
Inn Yard Park — named so for an Inn that used to stand there — has been part of Fairmount Park since 1932, said Reiff.
Although there initially was a playground there, it was torn down in the 70s, and has served as a softball field since, she said. But parents looked at it more as a mucky field that didn’t serve many purposes.
Trinette Giberson, who lives within walking distance of the park, says she and her now nine-year-old son visited the park often over the past few years.
“We ran around with a soccer ball, climbed trees, brought a hula hoop,” she said.
But Giberson said the park tended to be muddy and there were limited things to do in terms of play.
She said she’d bring her son to another nearby park, which does have a playground, but goes highly unused.
“We’d typically be the only ones there,” she said. “And it’s a shame.”
A place for the community to connect
To Giberson and other community members, the new playground at Inn Yard Park isn’t just a metal structure for kids to climb, run on and slide down, it’s a center for parents to gather.
Eyring said when she lived in the neighborhood, the lack of adequate playgrounds caused her to drive to Roxborough with her kids.
“I didn’t get to connect with neighbors and other moms,” she said.
Eyring said it’s not unusual for new moms to crave social interaction after going from working full time to being at home.
Sarah Taylor, who took over efforts once Eyring moved, said connecting with other moms was also an important need she wanted to fulfill for herself and other women in the community.
“I was a stay at home mom and I wanted a place to meet local moms,” she said.
Taylor said the community rallied behind the cause not only to create more of a central gathering point to serve social purposes, but to spark a possible comeback for Ridge Ave.
“We hope we can sustain more stores,” she said, adding that Slice’s Pizza might see an increase in customers. “The business people are excited to help revitalize this section of Ridge.”
Fighting for more funds
As the community enjoys the playground’s inaugural week, members of the East Falls Community Council (EFCC) say they’re not backing down on a previous agreement made with Westrum Development Company that could bring in an extra $50,000 for the park.
Several years back, the (EFCC) supported a number of Westrum’s zoning variances for a local development in exchange for a grant to help build a playground once plans were finalized. The exchange was documented in a contract.
A few years ago when EFCC cashed in on the deal, Westrum denied them the cash.
“We’ve been asking them for more than two years,” said Meg Greenfield, Vice President of EFCC.
Greenfield said the development corporation “kept making all these excuses,” such as they were not aware that EFCC raised matching funds and they did not have the money.
But Eyring said she thinks the company is truly out of cash.
“I think it wasn’t because they backed out,” she said. “[I think it was because] the housing market imploded.”
Greenfield said the EFCC will sue Westrum, if need be, to acquire the promised funds.
Money or no money, Greenfield said she was glad the project still went through despite the missing funds.
“We’re just thrilled that the councilman has made this happen,” she said.