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    Play equipment has faced a long climb

    The Optimist Club steps up long-delayed efforts to provide Pop Stansell Park with something for kids to play on.

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


    PALM HARBOR -- After years of waiting, Donna Meyer figures the time has come to forge ahead with plans to buy and install new playground equipment at H.S. "Pop" Stansell Park.

    Playground equipment at the waterfront park has long since been removed because of its old age and deteriorating condition. That leaves few outside recreation options for small children who live nearby, Meyer said.

    "There is no park in the area, except for Edgewater Park in Dunedin and Anderson Park in Tarpon Springs," she said. "Those are a 14-mile round trip for people who live in Palm Harbor."

    The Palm Harbor Optimist Club, which first came up with the plan to replace the park's outdated playground equipment in 1994, has decided to begin applying the $15,000 raised for the park.

    That's well short of the $70,000 to $100,000 needed, said Meyer, the club's president, but it was important to get the project off the shelf and into action.

    The club also has enlisted state Rep. Larry Crow, R-Palm Harbor, to make a fundraising push.

    "We owe it to the community to move ahead," Meyer said. "It's kind of long overdue."

    Much of the delay has been caused by waiting for matching funds either from the county, which owns the land, or the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, which maintains it.

    The agency has limited funds and can't afford to make park improvements, said board chairman Mike Smith. It has been challenging enough to stay ahead of vandalism there, he said.

    For the agency, the extra $50,000 or more needed to make park improvements represents at least a tenth of its annual budget, Smith said. In contrast, that amount would be a small part of the county's park budget, he said.

    "It would be a natural for the county to run it," Smith said. "I think it could be better if the county operated it."

    County officials may be open to the idea of taking over maintenance of the park, provided the agency annually turns over the amount it now pays for maintenance.

    County Commissioner Susan Latvala said she has approached Assistant County Administrator Jake Stowers about bringing the issue before the commission.

    "It's a fabulous piece of property," Latvala said. "It needs to be a showcase in Palm Harbor. I think it could be better utilized.

    "PHCSA has never given much attention to it," Latvala said. "It's just never been a priority."

    Applications for state money have also failed, Meyer said. In 1999, the agency and the Optimist Club made a joint application seeking a $50,000 state grant. But the application was returned with a few questions, and the necessary changes were not made by Palm Harbor's former recreation director before the application deadline passed, Meyer said.

    Last year, Meyer approached Crow about the possibility of obtaining a state appropriation. Crow warned that similar applications were met with the governor's veto, and he suggested the club not waste its time.

    Declining and aging membership in the Optimist Club also nearly doomed the project. The club considered dissolution in 1999, but that would have meant all the money collected over the years from hot dog sales and other fundraisers would have to have been returned to the donors, Meyer said. So the club was kept alive by the playground project.

    The club kept waiting for the county or the Palm Harbor agency to put up matching funds.

    But the club has tired of waiting, she said.

    "It has gone on way too long," Crow agreed.

    Crow plans this week to begin calling businesses and residents he knows asking for donations for the playground equipment. He has also pledged $1,000 of his own money.

    "I'm going to put the heat on a bunch of people," he said.

    - Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farley@sptimes.com.

    Donations welcome

    Donations for the playground equipment can be made to the Palm Harbor Optimist Club, c/o Donna Meyer, president, 760 Foundview Drive, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.

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