By Tracy Correa
BAKERSFIELD – - Five-year-old Cayden Schlitz didn’t quite know where to place the final pieces of the rock wall, but he couldn’t wait for it to be done so he could test it out.
The little helper was just one of more than 200 volunteers who turned out on Saturday, Nov. 10, to build a new playground at CALM (California Living Museum) on the outskirts of Bakersfield. CALM is a 14-acre, park-like living museum that teaches more than 14,000 school children a year about respect for living things through education, recreation, conservation and research.
Building the playground took just six hours, and it was an extraordinary effort: A dirt lot in the morning was transformed into a stunning new play area that includes new swings, a bright green slide, a bridge, climbing equipment and more.
PG&E partnered with national nonprofit KaBOOM! to construct the playground at the museum operated by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. PG&E and CALM committed $75,000 and $8,500 respectively, and together they worked to match another $10,000 to build the expanded play space.
Six playgrounds in two years
The Bakersfield project was just the latest in the utility’s program to build playgrounds in at-risk and underserved areas in PG&E’s territory. The purpose for PG&E’s involvement is to create access for children to play, creating healthier, happier youngsters who perform better in school.
In less than two years, PG&E also has worked with KaBOOM! to build playgrounds in Sacramento, Fresno, Oceano (San Luis Obispo County), Santa Rosa and Eureka. And like the other sites, local children helped design the playground.
After an 8 a.m. welcome from Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall and an on-site breakfast, volunteers were motivated to get to work. “Right now, it looks pretty sad,” Christine Lizardi Frazier, Kern County Schools Superintendent, told volunteers. But by 2:30 p.m., she said, “You are going to be in awe of what you accomplish.” Both Hall and Frazier thanked PG&E for their contribution in making the playground possible.
Volunteers included employees from PG&E and Kern County Schools, along with their friends and family members. But it also included student athletes and cheer squad members from Cal State University, Bakersfield as well as others who turned out on their own after hearing about the project.
Cal State Bakersfield track team member Dominique Alexander said she just wanted to get involved in doing something good for the community.
A playground close to the heart
For Rebecca Schlitz, a speech pathologist with Kern County schools and little Cayden’s mother, the project was more personal. “CALM has really been close to my heart,” she said.
A mother of seven – ranging in age from 5 to 20 years old – Schlitz brought five of her children to the build event. She recalled family trips and birthday parties held at CALM, saying the playground has never changed. “It’s nice to see it upgraded. This new playground is something that is going to last a long time.”
Terry Scott, PG&E’s executive manager for energy solutions and services in Bakersfield, praised his colleagues for their work on Saturday and called the build event, “One of the most gratifying days of my 43 years with this company.”
Josh Carlson, KaBOOM project manager, said the Bakersfield playground was one of the larger builds coordinated by the organization. He also said it is unique because it benefits more than just a single school or neighborhood since children and families from throughout Kern County visit the museum and use the playground.
Designers took special care to include nature elements including a large metal spider web, a cracked egg big enough for children to climb through, and a tree tunnel. The new tunnel replaces a concrete tunnel that had been deemed unsafe for play.
The Bakersfield playground project represents more than two months of planning. To complete the project, volunteers used more than 200 cubic yards of mulch and mixed 20,000 pounds of concrete by hand.
PG&E contractors Cleveland Wrecking and William Hicks also helped with the project donating manpower and equipment to remove the old play structure prior to the build event. The old equipment was then donated Valley Oaks Charter School, saving both the CALM project and Kern County valuable resources.
E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com.