- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 2, 2004

The threat of rain did not dampen the spirits yesterday of hundreds of volunteers determined to spruce up the grounds of the Benning Park Recreation Center in Southeast so neighborhood children would have clean, fresh and safe areas in which to play and study.

The District of Columbia Building Industry Association’s 12th annual Community Improvement Day brought together about 300 professionals, including architects, engineers, developers, contractors, interior designers, landscape designers, lawyers and residents from the Southeast neighborhood for a daylong project that took six months to plan.

Volunteers rolled up their sleeves and wiped the sweat from their brows to give a new look to the popular 30-year-old recreation center, playground and park. They restored a mural, planted trees and shrubbery, built a pavilion, repaired exterior lighting and installed built-in cabinetry for computers.

The event was scheduled for Sept. 18, then postponed because of the threat of rain and wind from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan.

“The hurricane blew us behind, but not away,” said James Williams, president of the association and of CarrAmerica Realty Corp. in Northwest. “We’ve had a great turnout. The children are out [volunteering,] and we got a lot of input from them. An event such as this is so important for several reasons: All too often there’s a tendency to think that the community is splintered — downtown and east of the river.”

Tama Duffy Day of OPX, an architectural and interior design firm in Northwest, moved briskly from one end to the other of the five-acre park. She shoveled mounds of dirt, cleaned playground equipment until it sparkled and spread mulch to level a play area.

Ms. Duffy Day, got involved in the project after watching a video and seeing the transformation of another of the city’s recreation centers.

“I felt it was very worthwhile, and I’ll come out again and do this,” she said. “Community [members] told us what they like and what they want. What we are doing is helping them meet their goals.”

Gary Ball of the James G. Davis Construction Co. in Rockville also moved like a pro through the mud yesterday to get the job done. Mr. Ball is co-chairman of this year’s event and got involved with the project six years ago.

“We are all thrilled to give back to the community,” he said.

Mr. Ball said he especially enjoys watching the children learn from professionals and get hands-on experience from people who are happy to share their knowledge and expertise.

“On top of all the fun we have,” he said, “we help improve the infrastructure of the District — one park at a time. These are parks that are most in need.”

More than 50 companies from the building industry participated in the event and donated $1 million in materials, equipment and labor.

Volunteers with paint brushes in hand meticulously helped restore a once-vibrant mural on an exterior wall of the recreation center, which was painted in 1989 with the help of artist Roderick Turner.

The mural, titled “Excellence,” depicts historic black figures, including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Juanita K. Stout, who died in 1998.

“I came out today to give the painters a little direction,” said Mr. Turner, who worked with five students from a District arts organization to create the mural.

“I am very appreciative to have been included in the project,” he said. “When the mural went up, so many people in the community were a part of it. It wasn’t really my mural at all.”

And for one day, Leo Eskin, an engineer with StructureTone, a general contracting company in Arlington, had the opportunity to showcase his creative side.

“I’m having a really good time,” he said. “We’re not artists, but today we get to pretend,” he said.

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