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New playground quickly rises in Westminster's Dutterer Family Park

There was a line of people digging a shallow trench while another crew bolted neon-green handrails to purple playground frames Friday afternoon at Dutterer Family Park in Westminster. Despite the sweat, the atmosphere was more festive than grueling: Up-tempo music with a healthy dose of bass blared from a sound system, and people here and there were crowned with metallic paper jester hats.

This was the Dutterer Park playground build, organized by national nonprofit KaBOOM!, which is dedicated to making active play available to all children, and was powered by the more than 200 volunteers that turned out to tear down an aging and unsafe playground structure then install a new one in just one day. It was a partnership between KaBOOM!, Habitat for Humanity of Carroll County, the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster and Westminster Recreation and Parks, with funding provided by Baltimore Gas and Electric, which also brought 100 volunteers to the build.

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"The playground that was here was 20 years old; it was unsafe, so the kids couldn't play on it," said Rachel Malkusak, KaBOOM! project manager. "So by the grant from BGE, we at KaBOOM! were able to get that playground out of here, put a brand new one in, and this will be open in 72 hours once that concrete dries."

Work got started shortly after 9 a.m. Friday, and a little before 2 p.m., there was a bed of sand and mulch where the old playground stood — it will later be turned into a basketball court — and a new structure with neon-green and purple railings, two turquoise slides, rock climbing structures, and lily pad-like balancing posts had risen from the ground.

"You can see firsthand how our community comes together to make a project, not by what we think looks good, but what our kids think makes it look good," Westminster Mayor Kevin Utz said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony after the build. "It's not about us anymore — it's about our children."

The playground was truly designed by and for kids, according to Erin Bishop, marketing director of the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster.

"This summer, [KaBOOM!] came in August to the Boys and Girls Club and they got together a group of about 40 kids and those kids got to draw a picture of what their dream playground would look like," Bishop said. "We gave all that information to the architects and they gave us three different design plans to choose from. We picked one and had them throw in a little purple in there for the Ravens."

A group of about a dozen students from nearby West Middle School were able to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, and afterward they were happy to talk about their excitement for the new park.

"It was a little bit creaky [before], so now it's new," 12-year-old Myiona Davis said.

"And the paint? I love the paint," she said, noting she's partial to purple.

Dillon Hereth, 11, said he couldn't wait to try out the new monkey bars, though that wasn't the most interesting part of the playground for him.

"I'm impressed that they did this in, like, a fast amount of time," he said. "That's impressive. Awesome."

Several others said they were glad the park's swings were still there — as the newest part of the old equipment, it was decided they could stay, according to Bishop.

KaBOOM! first contacted the Boys and Girls Club in December about doing a playground build around its Union Street location, Bishop said, but because the club does not own any of the nearby property, the project seemed to fall apart.

BGE and KaBOOM! were intent on building a playground in Carroll County, however, and about eight weeks after regretfully turning down the offer, Bishop said, she was informed of the new partnership with Westminster Recreation and Parks and Habitat for Humanity.

"I got a call from Mark Slater [at Recreation and Parks] and he said, 'We are going to build a playground with KaBOOM! and we want you to be our nonprofit partner,' " Bishop said.

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Habitat for Humanity came on board because it recently opened homes near the park and because the organization's mission isn't just about putting roofs over people's heads, but about building communities, according to Executive Director Bryan Lyburn.

"We've got six homeowners that live within 200 yards of this park," he said. "Between those six families, they have 13 kids and those 13 Habitat homeowners now have a park that's their home park that they can use whenever they want and it's beautiful."

BGE has done two other playground builds in Maryland in the past few years, one in Annapolis and another in Baltimore, according to Melissa Cheek, corporate relations representative. She said it is important to the company that it reach out to all its service area when doing philanthropic work.

"A lot of times you think of BGE and you think Baltimore City, right? That's certainly part of who we are but that's not all of who we are," Cheek said. "This is new for us, but this is something our employees really, really love to be involved in."

Cheek said she wasn't sure how much funding BGE contributed to the park.

In the end, the most important thing is that there are increased opportunities for play for children of the Westminster community, according to Malkusak, of KaBOOM!

"Play is not a luxury, it's something that is a necessity in kids' daily lives," she said. "It's a muscle builder, brain expander, friend maker — it hits on all those social, mental and physical aspects.

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