Council Bluffs and area residents gathered at Lake Manawa on a beautiful fall day Sunday to celebrate the renovation and expansion of the Dream Playground — now the Dream Playground Re-Imagined.
The project was initiated two years ago with a father’s comment to his step-son that the original Dream Playground, completed 25 years ago, was in need of repair.
The father, Pottawattamie County Supervisor Justin Schultz, took his concern to former City Council member Lynne Branigan, who had helped build the original playground.
Branigan said Sunday her initial reaction to a renovation project was “insane,” but it was one of those crazy ideas that somehow grew legs.
A steering committee was assembled that included Branigan and Schultz along with Barry Cleaveland, Justin James and Lori Shields. Chris Rochleau volunteered to serve as the contractor for the project. When a medical issue sidelined Rochleau, Dan Mann volunteered to fill the contractor’s role.
The original Dream Playground, built by some 2,000 volunteers during a rainy three-day period in 1993 included features originally conceptualized by elementary students. The same process was followed for the renovation and expansion with some 1,700 elementary students offering their ideas regarding what the playground should include.
Cleaveland, who served as fundraising chairman for the effort, said the goal was to raise $650,000 to renovate and expand the playground and an additional $100,000 to create an endowment fund for future maintenance. The community stepped up to meet that goal.
Thanks to the efforts of the steering committee members and thousands of volunteers, Council Bluffs is now the home of the largest ADA-certified public playground in the state of Iowa.
The efforts of those volunteers — all 3,582 of them — resulted in an 18,000-square-foot ADA-compliant playground for area children that is the largest in a 300-mile radius.
Those 3,582 volunteers donated a combined 28,344 hours to the project. Using figures recognized by the Loess Hills Missouri River Region/Iowa Parks Foundation and the Iowa West Foundation – both major contributors to the project — to evaluate “in-kind” volunteer labor contributions, the volunteers’ time donation was valued at $550,000.
Council Bluffs now has a playground that all area residents should be proud of, a facility that will offer a model for other communities to follow.
More importantly, it shows what can be accomplished when people come together to donate a portion of their time, a sampling of their talent or a portion of their treasure.