Holding up photos of what the playground at Emile Griffith Ballpark looked like after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Sports, Parks and Recreation’s Commissioner-designee Calvert White said Tuesday that the contrast of the newly renovated facility in the background was like night and day.
After the storms, with many of the public sports fields and activity centers decimated, White began meeting with companies that could begin restoring them. The goal, at a meeting last September, was to fix at least two playgrounds on St. Thomas and a deadline of two months was set to get the process started.
At the grand reopening of the Griffith playground Tuesday, White said what happened next was a sign of “faith.” Within a week, he received a call from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands relaying the news of a major donor who had committed the funds to help and, while the deadline was pushed back after the design company, Wholesale Playgrounds, suffered a major warehouse fire that depleted their stock of equipment, the project quickly got back on track.
Once White learned that Carnival Cruise Lines was the donor, the decision was made to put the funding into one site that could benefit the entire community. The playground design incorporated the cruise line’s signature colors – red, white and blue – and in the months that followed, a complete transformation of the facility ensued. Along with new surfaces on the basketball court and playground itself, the equipment – including accessible harness swings for children with physical and developmental limitations – is also brand new. The walls and dugouts are painted and there is also a new gathering gazebo with picnic tables and benches courtesy of My Brother’s Workshop.
Speaking at the official opening Tuesday, CFVI President Dee Baecher-Brown said the project symbolizes the best kind of public-private partnership: one that benefits the continued development of children and families within the territory.
“The storms took away so much, but we said that we came back, we wanted to be better, we wanted to be stronger and we wanted to be a kinder and gentler community for our children and our families. And, for CFVI, nothing epitomizes that more than what you’re looking at today,” Baecher-Brown said.
The addition of a “Little Free Library,” a standing box at the corner of the park where children’s books can be exchanged, sponsored by Princess Cruise Lines, also adds an educational component to the project, speakers said.
Delegate Stacey Plaskett related her own experiences on the playground, both as a child growing up on-island and off, and as a mother of five. No matter where a child is from or how much their parents make, the playground is always the equalizer, offering both a space for children to connect socially and form friendships, while also building developmental and motor skills.
“For decades, this park has also been a staple in our community for the young and the young at heart and it is so appropriate that many of our territory’s youngsters discovered their love for sports and physical activity right here,” Plaskett said. “My hope is that friendships and healthy habits are created here by new generations of children for decades to come.”
Speaking for Carnival Cruise Lines, Carnival Breeze Cruise Director Steven Schwartz said the company hopes that the playground helps create new memories.
“The biggest thing that Carnival as a brand likes to do is provide fun and memorable vacations,” Schwartz said. “And we hope this park will provide fun and memorable moments for families and children across the island. We’re excited to be able to come back and visit.”
Wrapping up Tuesday, White reminded the audience – which included students from Ulla F. Muller and Jane E. Tuitt elementary schools along with several St. Thomas families ready to play – that the community has to take ownership of the facility and help keep it clean.
“We want to keep it looking like this for a long, long time,” he said.