Mall playground coming soon

FAIRMONT — A new attraction is set to appear at Five Lakes Centre, hopefully by late February, when an indoor play area is installed.

The idea for the project had been around for a couple of years before “Kids Just Want to Have Fun,” a committee under Project 1590, took over and took action. Plans hit a couple of snags, but the group persisted.

Laura Olsen, committee chairwoman, said the group initially planned a medical theme, but the equipment supplier couldn’t produce a design that would pass state fire code. The committee changed its focus and found a new supplier. In doing so, the original cost estimate of $70,000 was reduced to $55,000.

Olsen confessed she was a bit frustrated with the slow trickle of donations when fundraising began a year ago.

“But, towards the end, we really got the ball rolling,” she said. “We first shared our vision publicly at the Martin County Fair this year. As people saw our vision coming about and we got details nailed down, they got more excited. Then the money started coming in.”

The first fundraising requests were mailed out almost a year ago, according to Ed Willett, committee vice chairman. After a tepid response, committee members started making the rounds to various service clubs, giving presentations and making requests. Willett said they asked for a donation, to do a joint fundraising project or, at the minimum, a letter of support.

“We did a lot of cold calls, and 1590 was a door opener and lent legitimacy to the effort,” he said.

Committee members Meaghan Slama, Kristy Olson, Kendra Pomerenke, Tiphanie Izen and Becki Peterson joined talents to organize “Ties and Tiaras,” a father-daughter dance, last fall. The event received positive reviews and raised $850.

John Lund initially gave $500 for the cause but wanted to do more. He issued a $1,000 matching challenge that the committee publicized at a fall event at the Red Rock Center, during which “Kids Just Want to Have Fun” and other local groups could showcase their projects.

“We announced that at the Red Rock Center event. Within two days, we had another $1,000,” Willett said.

Almost a dozen donations of $500 were received, as well as several between $1,000 and $5,000. Bank Midwest and Valero each donated $5,000. The Schmeeckle Foundation granted $10,000, as did the Rosen Family Foundation.

“We hit our goal about the second week in December,” Willett said. “The Rosen Family Foundation is the one that put us over the top.”

With the new play area ordered from International Play Co., the work still continues. To prepare for installation at the south end of the mall, new “soft” flooring will be installed, and plans are in the works for a shoe rack, for which BoeKett Building Supply has donated materials. Olsen said they hope to have a high school class take on the rack building project.

The colorful two-level play equipment will be similar to one located at McDonald’s in Blue Earth, Olsen said. There is no age limit to use the play area, but the manufacturer recommends a maximum height.

“There also is a separate area for toddlers and little ones. They have their own enclosed area,” Olsen said.

Olsen and Willett said they had people question the mall location because of the recent loss of stores at the facility, but the committee deemed it as a logical place.

“The mall agreed to insure it, clean it and maintain it,” Willett said. “They donated a spot for it. They’re allowing it. It’s free for the children, and the hours are ideal.”

He added that the increased foot traffic generated by the play area might generate new businesses opening at the mall.

Willett expressed gratitude to Fairmont resident Tim McConnell, who had the initial idea for the indoor playground, and Liz Wheeler of Fairmont for developing the group’s website and laying the groundwork for the project. He also praised the city of Fairmont for channeling the money raised through its finance office and handling the committee’s disbursements.

Although the play area soon will become a reality, fundraising is continuing.

“We want to raise more money for benches and, eventually, repairs and maintenance,” Willett said.

Olsen said she is proud of the work the committee did.

“I think it was harder than any of us imagined, but it’s been fun,” she said.