Fundraising has begun for upgrades to the Simpson Park playground.

The Friends of the Park was established just over a year ago, and not long after members of the non-profit chose the Simpson Park playground as their first project.

“Someone mentioned Simpson Park and everyone agreed. The playground is unavailable several weeks of the summer and especially during the rainy season and it effects children,” Lou Cowherd, Friends of the Park board member said. “It has affected all families in town that love to use Simpson Park playground. There are other projects, but we didn’t even get into what other projects there were.”

The mission statement of Friends of the Park is to support the Chillicothe Parks Department, maintain and enhance the parks of Chillicothe.

Cowherd said several things made Simpson Park’s play area rise to the top of the list and made it an easy choice for their first project.

“When it rains - even just an inch-the playground is unusable for days,” she said. “There is a clear drainage issue.” The mulch that is currently used as ground cover remains saturated long after the puddles dry and have made the surface uneven.

Besides a more recent donation by the Rotary Club, the next newest play equipment is at least 20 years old.

“Some of it may be 30-40 years old,” Cowherd said. “And though some of the newest items are meant for those of all ability levels, they are hard to access.”

“A local foundation funded the cost of a geo-thermal engineering project,” Cowherd said. “He took several bore readings in the whole playground area going as deep as 10-14 feet and gave us a very detailed report of layers. It was pretty typical for this part of the midwest - it is just clay. We eliminated the worry about the fact that was some kind of underground water issue.”

After meeting with an architect out of Kansas City who specializes in playground, Cowherd said they have decided there is a need for an all weather ground cover.

Also discussed by the council and Cowherd was the need to move the playground.

“We are just one bad accident from a drunk driver causing a tragedy at the play area,” City Administrator Darin Chappell said.

Cowherd and the council members agreed. Cowherd stated they have asked several people in town, and have looked extensively about where they could move the playground, but still have it near the restrooms.

The group would like to move the playground, or at least new equipment to the north and east of the bathrooms - in the grassy area near the existing playground.

New equipment will be added, and as the project progresses engineers and construction crews will determine the safety and ability to save and keep any of the existing play equipment. The rocketship, will remain.

The Simpson Park Playground Project is estimated to cost as much as $400,000, and Cowherd said the funds raised will determine the scope of the project and what the group is able to do.

At Monday night’s finance meeting, Cowherd spoke to council members and explained the group;’s plan for the play area and also asked for initial approval for a commitment from the city to cover 25 percent of the costs of the project.

At the council meeting that followed, Mayor Theresa Kelly amended the agenda to include a vote on a proposed financial commitment to the project in 2020. The council voted 5-0 to pledge 25 percent of the estimated costs of the park project, to allow the group to begin fundraising while having a commitment from the city.

Cowherd noted there are several foundations and local individuals who have agreed to support the project on some level, but wanted the city’s support as well.

“This is a project that has needed to be done and will benefit the city as a whole,” Pam Jarding, Fourth Ward councilperson said at Monday night's meeting.

“We are now ready to go out and solicit donations and begin the process,” Cowherd said noting they would like to have donations secured by April 1, 2020, which is the start of the city’s 2020 fiscal year.

“Overall I would like to see this project done in 2020, but we are aware and very much do not want to have the park’s play area under construction during the summer, when it gets the most use,” she said. “So it may be late 2020 before it is completed. A lot will depend on the scope of the project and when we can begin.”

The park and playground hold memories and are the site of fun times for most members of the community, and Cowherd said community input is very important on his project.

“Friends of the Park will be working very closely with Josh Norris, parks director,when we get to the planning stages of the playground. I invite anyone to contact me or other board of directors members would like to get involved.”

Norris and members of city government have been in discussions about the need and scope of the project with Cowherd and other Friends of the Park members for several months. And that will continue throughout this process, in addition to at least one community meeting, where residents will be asked to share their ideas about the Simpson Park Playground project.

Cowherd said Friends of the Park currently has five board members and about 30 members. Membership to Friends of the Park is $25 a year, and anyone interested in getting involved or donating to the Simpson Park Playground Project should reach out to her at 646-1238, or find more information on the Friends of the Park Facebook page.