A playful purpose

Photo by Collin Richie


Marybeth Lima never imagined an annual assignment for her freshman-level biological engineering class at LSU would turn into a community-wide effort, but 17 years later, 30 playgrounds have been constructed as a result of the LSU Community Playground Project.
More than 120 volunteers came out for the most recent playground build at Bernard Terrace Elementary School in March. This particular project took three years, with most of the time spent gathering funding.
Each project begins with collaboration between Lima’s students and the school’s faculty, parents and, most importantly, the children—the true experts at play, according to Lima, who serves as the Cliff & Nancy Spanier Alumni Professor in Biological & Agricultural Engineering.
The students must find out what makes each school community unique and translate that into a design. From there, Lima’s students apply engineering and problem-solving methods to design and create a blueprint for the playground.
Construction of the playground is done entirely by volunteers including both current and former students of Lima as well as alumni and a number of local community groups and organizations.
“We really have a big list of people who support us and who will come to every single build,” Lima says. “It’s just amazing to see.”
Playgrounds number 31 and 32 are already in the works. Lima pursues project after project, but there are still a great deal of schools that need help. Within a week of completion of the project’s first playground back in 1998, Lima received a call from the principal of another Baton Rouge school soliciting the help of the LSU Community Playground Project. Lima says attention to playground access and safety is not only a community need, but actually a national issue.
Demetric Alexander, principal at Bernard Terrace, points out that recess and physical activity are things often put on the back burner in this day and age, yet they are so critical. “It sounds so simple, but they still need time just to exert some of that energy.” Alexander explains that playgrounds also teach things like social skills: “It’s so much more than just playing.”
Although the goal of the Community Playground Project is to upgrade all playgrounds in East Baton Rouge Parish, the effect of the program is more profound than simply providing a needed product.
“There’s something more that happens, I think, educationally and socially, when people all work together to make something happen,” Lima says.  “[The project] just keeps giving back to all of the people who are involved for as long as the playground lives.”