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Playground dedication at Mechanicsville Elementary honors drowning victim

Mechanicsville Elementary School's celebration of the opening of two new playgrounds on Saturday will be both a joyous and sad occasion.

The event will also honor Nathan Chris Baker, 5, who had just entered kindergarten at Mechanicsville when he died from accidental drowning over Labor Day weekend in 2012.

As his family prepared for his funeral, they decided that in lieu of flowers, donations should be given to Mechanicsville Elementary, which was in need of a new playground.

"Before Nathan went to kindergarten, it was explained to us that the playground would be condemned," said Justin Baker, Nathan's father. "It was pretty shocking to us the PTA had to come up with all this money. When Nathan died, my wife brought it up. Nathan would love ... a new playground. Nate was so carefree and adventurous. He always wanted to be outside."

With the support of the Nathan Chris Baker Foundation and winning Dannon Yogurt's Rally for Recess, Mechanicsville Elementary's PTA was able to replace the main playground and the kindergarten playground.

"We thought it would take three to five years," said Julie Weaver, the PTA president last year and in charge of the recess project. "We had close to $80,000. It took less than nine months and we replaced both playgrounds."

Winning Dannon Yogurt's Project Recess was community effort as it required not only eating lots of yogurt, but a letter campaign as well. Thee Lions Club, the Gamber Fire Department and other community organizations aided the effort.

"It was a huge community effort," Weaver said. "It was very touching and inspiring to see such an outpouring for this family and this school."

The two new playgrounds, one in bright blue, the other green, offer a wide selection of climbing apparatuses and slides that should keep children of all ages hopping.

"Our original design was for a scaled-down playground," Weaver said. "We were able to expand the playground design and make a fabulous playground rather than a mediocre one. It is geared toward engaging physical activity."

"They're beautiful," Baker said, of the two playgrounds. "Nate would be very impressed. He would want to be out there immediately."

The Nathan Chris Baker Foundation is now helping Sandymount Elementary School raise money for a new playground.

A second Nathan Chris Baker Day is planned for Sept. 29 at Hoppers Kidzone in Eldersburg.

"We hope we can go to other schools and other communities and continue this," Baker said.

The dedication ceremony for Mechanicsville Elementary School's new playgrounds will take place on Aug. 24, at 1 p.m. at the school, 3838 Sykesville Road, Sykesville.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony, music, food and more are planned.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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