Reservoir Hill revitalizes community with new play area

Reservoir Hill's Whitelock Street, once known for its thriving businesses, is known more today for violence and illegal drugs.

On Thursday, the Baltimore Ravens and a nonprofit organization built a new playground and butterfly garden at German Park in an effort to aid the long-troubled neighborhood.

The old playground at German Park was built in 1979. But the wooden structure, built over concrete, proved dangerous and has fallen into disuse in recent years. The new playground is built from metal and plastic over a foundation of mulch and rubber.

"There was previously a very unsafe play structure," said Danielle Trezek, project manager for KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit dedicated to child's play. The Baltimore Ravens All Community Team Foundation worked with KaBOOM! on the playground.

It will "provide over 1,200 children a safe place to play," Trezek said.

Calandra Bennett, 34, has lived in Reservoir Hill her whole life and remembers playing on the old structure when she was a child.

"When you came down the slide, you hit the concrete," she said.

She remembers the cuts and bruises she used to get from playing there, and now that she is raising two children of her own in the neighborhood, expressed gratitude that they will have a safer place to play.

"I think it's a great opportunity for the kids. … They're already excited about it," Bennett said.

Rick Gwynallen, associate director for the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, has worked since early April to apply for the partnership with KaBOOM!, get the Ravens on board and get community residents involved in building the playground. The application, as well as fundraising for and completion of the revamped park, took just over two months, he said.

"Everybody moved really quickly," Gwynallen said.

Gwynallen said the improvement council is working on revitalizing not only German Park, but the Whitelock Street corridor. There is already a small community farm where people experiment with urban agriculture and sell local produce. He said there are also plans to use a vacant lot across the street from the new playground for flea markets and festivals.

"We think by October you're going to see a whole different Whitelock," Gwynallen said.

Timira McCray, 10, and Eden Schulman, 4, are looking forward to that new Whitelock and especially the new playground.

The new structure is "better without wood … [and] without stuff you can trip and fall over," Timira said.

"It looks beautiful," said Eden.

Timira is most excited about getting to play on the swings — the old structure did not have any — and Eden is looking forward to going down the slide and running across the bridge.

Crowds of volunteers worked for about seven hours Thursday to complete the structure, but there were a number of noteworthy faces missing from the crowd.

Because of the NFL lockout, Ravens players who would have attended the event were not allowed to come. Melanie LeGrande, a spokeswoman for the team, said the event still drew a crowd.

"The lockout really didn't affect it much," she said. The players are "doing a lot of great things in the community on their own."

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