- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

Some 150 residents, local activists and volunteers, armed with hammers and nails, will erect a new playground at Walter C. Pierce Park in Adams Morgan Saturday at a spot that over the years had become a haven for the homeless and drug users.
"It will be like the old fashioned barn raising," said Katie Davis, Friends president and local resident. "We will cement the foundation for our playground and also for our community. Were delighted that theres finally tangible progress to make this park a place where the community can come together."
The group raised $77,000 in private donations to help pay for the playground equipment and landscape plans in less than a year since The Washington Times first reported on their fund-raising efforts. Most of the donations came from nearby residents, local churches and foundations. This weekend the group will install two new swing sets, a seesaw, a slide and two climbing structures in the parks play area, where rusted slides and broken swings once stood.
The citys Department of Parks and Recreation pitched in another $200,000 to help the group pay for grading the playground, repaving walkways and installing new benches and lampposts.
"This is a wonderful thing that the community has accomplished," said Neil Albert, the departments acting director. "This is the kind of partnership we hope could be replicated throughout the city to help communities get the much-needed improvements for their parks. Unfortunately, we are never going to have the resources we need to fix all the parks."
Some activists see the playground as a step toward a rebirth of the park. "It would act as a catalyst for the renaissance of this park," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, which represents 37 local parishes.
The park, on Adams Mill Road at Ontario Place, serves more than 100,000 residents in the Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Woodley Park and Kalorama neighborhoods. Its the citys smallest and most ethnically diverse ward, with a population that is 49 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent from other cultural backgrounds. About 23 percent of residents, including children, live in or near poverty.
Once a Quaker cemetery, the 4.7-acre Pierce Park fell into disrepair over the last six years when the D.C. government stopped capital-improvement funds to maintain its parks. A park that was once equipped with two playgrounds and a well-kept soccer field soon became a hangout for drug users and a temporary shelter for the homeless.
Some of the playground equipment was stolen. What was left was broken, making it nearly impossible for neighborhood children to enjoy. One of the slides had a hole and some of the links that held up the swing sets were missing.
Weary of seeing the park fall deeper into disrepair, the residents took it upon themselves almost three years ago to rebuild the park, brick by brick. They held fund-raisers, including selling commemorative bricks (for $50 each, with donors name inscribed). The bricks will be laid in one corner of the playground.
They also held a theater production and undertook a grant-writing effort to help raise the funds.
St. Johns Church at Lafayette Square in Northwest was one of the hundreds of local groups that donated toward the project.
"Many of us felt that we had to do something to get our public spaces back," said the Rev. Luis Leon, St. Johns pastor. "This was a step in improving the quality of life for people."
Nearby residents also saw the park as a way to unite their community.
"We want this park to be like a town plaza," Miss Davis said. "People from all backgrounds could come together and get to know one another."

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