By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
The Connecticut Recreation & Parks Association will recognize Lowe’s of Derby for the home improvement store’s philanthropic work in renovating the “Maureen’s Dream” wooden playground in Painter Park.
Store manager Peter Ouellette will receive the association’s Selected Organization Award during its 57th annual Conference & Tradeshow Nov. 21 at the Mohegan Sun Hotel & Convention Center in Uncasville.
“Lowe’s contribution to our city was extremely generous, and this award from the Connecticut Recreation & Parks Association is well-deserved,” Mayor Edward M. O’Brien said. “Without the donation from Lowe’s and the hard work of the volunteers, an iconic park in our community may not have been able to stay open.”
“This park provides the children of West Haven with a fun, safe place to play with their friends, and thanks to Lowe’s donation, this will continue for years to come,” O’Brien said. “I would like to congratulate Lowe’s on receiving this award and thank them once again for their wonderful contribution to West Haven.”
Ouellette will represent the employee volunteers of his Derby store, known corporately as Lowe’s Market 1251, when he accepts the award on their behalf at the two-day conference, which begins Nov. 20.
“With over 300 parks and recreation professionals and over 95 exhibits, CRPA’s annual conference is a great place for networking, sharing ideas, learning about current trends, and getting a pulse on what is happening in the parks and recreation industry,” said Amy Wilcox of the Newington-based nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to the promotion, development and improvement of all recreation and parks services in Connecticut.
“This two-day conference and tradeshow boasts over 25 educational sessions, five networking events, an awards show and an exhibit hall,” Wilcox said.
According to CRPA’s website, the criterion for the Selected Organization Award comprises the following: “The organization should have made an outstanding voluntary contribution to the field of public recreation and parks, significant enough to have had a stimulating effect on recreation at a town, city, state or national level.”
For five weeks, starting Aug. 26, 2016, dozens of Lowe’s employees painstakingly restored the Painter Park playground on Kelsey Avenue for their annual “Lowe’s Heroes” community service project.
Then, on Oct. 15, 2016, O’Brien and other West Haven officials dedicated the refurbished wooden playground in honor of park neighbor and former city schoolteacher Maureen Blake as more than 100 happy children, parents and volunteers looked on.
Moments later, O’Brien signaled the reopening of the newly named Maureen’s Dream playground to the throng of anxious children, who immediately scampered into the fenced-in area to play on the castle-themed structure’s arsenal of swings and slides for the first time in six months.
O’Brien lauded Blake for leading a grass-roots movement to bring a playground to the neighborhood more than two decades ago. He also praised the volunteers from four area Lowe’s stores for “your extraordinary dedication and selfless contributions” to the structure’s extensive rehabilitation.
As part of their labor of love, the stores donated about $10,000 worth of materials.
O’Brien, who was surrounded by many of the Westies who constructed the original playground and many of the Lowe’s employees who restored the aging structure, also thanked the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the West Haven Fire Department for working together “to help the children of West Haven and this beloved playground.”
Blake said the playground was a community and team effort that included the aid of numerous residents.
The dedication also included remarks from city recreation program coordinator Tom Conroy, who organized the renovation project and helped O’Brien reveal the playground’s new Maureen’s Dream sign.
Conroy said the playground was erected over five days in May 1994 by a group of about 100 volunteers with a shared vision for building for West Haven’s future.
During the late morning dedication, O’Brien presented plaques enshrined in appreciation to Blake and Lowe’s, which was represented by Ouellette and Milford store manager John Cipriano.
“A special thanks to Lowe’s of Derby, Milford, New Haven and Orange for their extraordinary volunteerism and invaluable donations to the renovation and restoration of this playground 22 years later,” the plaque reads.
According to city officials, the playground had fallen into disrepair and was ordered closed in April 2016 by West Haven’s insurance carrier because of safety concerns.
Two months later, Park-Rec received an estimate of $150,000 to $180,000 to rehabilitate the popular playground.
Thankfully, over the summer of 2016, Cipriano answered the call for help and contacted O’Brien through Marilyn Wilkes, chairwoman of the city’s Beautification Committee, about taking on the playground restoration for Lowe’s community outreach project. The company previously helped Wilkes with her Community Garden project behind the former Molloy Elementary School.
Cipriano then mobilized a four-store team for the ambitious undertaking, which was supervised by Ouellette.
The work, done at no cost to city taxpayers, included replacing all swing set equipment and hardware, beams and boards, and benches. It also included restabilizing the wooden retaining wall, adding picnic tables and fresh mulch, and re-staining the playground.
West Haven firefighters pitched in by power-washing the playground before it was stained by Lowe’s.
Lowe’s, headquartered in Mooresville, North Carolina, has been “improving home improvement” for more than 60 years.
The Connecticut Recreation & Parks Association, created in 1949, provides a support network for its members through professional development and resources to enhance the quality of recreation and parks services statewide.
The association’s membership is composed of more than 650 individuals from municipal and private nonprofit, parks, recreation and camp organizations. It is represented by 130 of the 169 municipal parks and recreation departments in Connecticut.
CRPA’s members consist of municipal department professionals, volunteer commission members, students, professors and business representatives, as well as interested individuals in all levels of service in the parks and recreation field.
Members are offered education, advocacy and cost-savings programs to better serve their communities, according to the association’s website.