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New swing set just the start at Rand Community Center

By By Jack Suntrup
Staff Writer

Isis Leal really liked the new swing set at the Rand Community Center Tuesday, but she was already looking forward to more new equipment.

When asked what she would like to see next, Leal, 8, said: “lower monkey bars.”

Right now, Hermione Ellison, 10, has to hold on to the younger kids on the monkey bars as they stretch from bar to bar.

“I help people on the monkey bars and everything, so I do come quite frequently,” Ellison said of how often she comes to play.

Tammy Gray, a program coordinator with Choose to Change, made no guarantees about lower monkey bars, but said that the new swings are just the start of an effort to renovate the entire community center’s outdoor space by next summer.

Choose to Change is a West Virginia University obesity prevention program funded by a $4.8 million grant from the USDA. The program took applications for mini-grants, which is how the community center got $4,000 for the new swings.

Community center leaders plan to raise about $120,000 for their renovation goals, said Bonnie Dunn, of West Virginia State University, who works with the community center.

Gray said the goal for the new playground is to have two play structures — one for older kids and one for younger kids. Exercise areas, a shaded picnic area and a walking trail for seniors are all being planned. The community center doesn’t have all the funds, and is seeking donations, Gray said.

The Rand Community Center, with its aging slide and lone set of monkey bars — and now, swings — is the only thing resembling a playground in the neighborhood, community members said.

The community center used to be an elementary school, but that closed. The swings kids used for decades were taken out after people started getting hurt, Ellison said.

“This was my playground in elementary school,” Dunn, 65, said. “The old swing set that used to sit here, I used to swing on it as a child, so that tells you how old this stuff is.”

Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie, D-Kanawha, was on hand for the dedication Tuesday.

“We’ve all pitched in,” Guthrie said of the effort to renovate the community center. “One of the dreams that they’ve always had is to make sure that they’ve had a community park.”

Guthrie said each year in the Legislature, the Senate, House of Delegates and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin allocate funds for the community center’s programs.

“Everybody wants to see this place succeed,” Guthrie said. “There isn’t a whole bunch of money available to renovate abandoned school buildings.”

And a swing set in Rand was in high-demand. At the ribbon cutting for the playground improvement on Tuesday, about 10 kids waited patiently behind caution tape to be some of the first to test out the four swings.

“Those kids are dying to swing,” Gray shouted across the field, as she tried to round up community members for a photo. “That’s why we’ve got to hurry this show up.”

Reach Jack Suntrup at jack.suntrup@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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