After years of planning and fundraising, a new playscape opened last weekend in a Farmington city park.
The story behind the Flanders Park playscape is one of volunteerism, collaboration, and a public-private effort. It started when a private developer bought the former Flanders Elementary School property and turned it into a housing development, with land reserved for a small public park.
Farmington resident Sara Davies, who attended the now-demolished Flanders Elementary, first got involved with the park five years ago, when a tree planted during her school years was removed. She convinced the developer to plant a replacement with a plaque recognizing Flanders families.
“The school was near my house,” Davies said. “The park, for my family, was such a cornerstone. It was a really cool place to be.”
The park opened three years ago, but with limited play equipment. The city had planned to use items from the school playground, but those failed to meet safety standards.
The new playscape includes slides and plenty of climbing features. The park also has a new 7-loop bike rack and spring riders for smaller kids.
Farmington Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa said Flanders Park was one of the reasons he ran for office.
“I would take my kids to the park, and they’d ask me to take them somewhere else,” he said.
LaRussa brought his council colleagues a grant program that would have required matching funds. When that effort failed, he said, organizers looked at “what did we learn from that, and what would give us a higher likelihood of success.”
A neighborhood fundraising drive launched in April of 2019 has raised more than $16,000 through a crowd-funding page, a restaurant week hosted by the Farmington Area Jaycees, and other efforts. In June, city officials released $30,000 in budget funds reserved for the park, and construction started earlier this month.
Davies and LaRussa agree that neighbors working together drove the project forward, whether it was raising money, finding equipment, or putting in a little sweat equity. For example, LaRussa said, a willingness to complete some site prep work saved about $3,500. That helped bring the playground in under budget.
“I definitely think there’s a desire to go after the things that neighborhoods want,” LaRussa said. “I think that’s an untapped resource in our community, residents willing to put in their time and energy.”
Davies said that an opening celebration for the playground will come at a later date, due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and she can’t wait.
“It is a wonderful relief and a huge excitement,” she said of the park’s completion. “It feels very rewarding and also humbling. It’s been so nice to see the community come together.”
“It really did take a village,” LaRussa said. “It was a beautiful endeavor that involved so many people. It’s hard to find those kinds of experiences any more.”