Community leaders turn attention to Shirley park

SHIRLEY — The slides at Shirley’s town park have been around longer than most of the residents, but that’s not stopping local youngsters from playing there.

It’s a beloved place but not the safest, featuring outdated equipment that needs replaced or repaired to meet product safety codes, town leaders say. Now, organizers of an effort to spruce up the park are looking for community members to join the initiative.

Several community organizations secured grant funding for playground equipment last month, and now they need to decide what to spend the money on and find the helping hands to make it happen.

Last month, the Hancock County Community Foundation gave the town’s historical society an $8,000 Celebrating Communities grant to improve the park.

Because the town has no dedicated parks department, the historical society is overseeing the work with the help of Shirley Visionaries, a nonprofit group trying to generate interest in the town of about 800.

“We’ve got a lot of options, but we have to look and see what we want,” said Andy Ebbert, the Shirley Volunteer Fire Department chief and a member of Shirley Visionaries.

Some of the 24-acre park’s playground equipment found its home there after Shirley School was bulldozed in the 1970s; it wasn’t new then, Ebbert said.

While some pieces need just a little elbow grease to be brought up to the standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency that governs product safety, issues recalls and researches potential hazards. Some outdated equipment must be replaced.

Two of the three slides in the park are made of bright, reflective metal that can get burning hot in the sun, said Theresa Ebbert, Shirley Visionaries president. The slides’ side guards also are too short, according to safety codes.

The merry-go-round is almost three times too high off the ground, Ebbert said. This could easily be fixed by placing down more ground cover like pea gravel — the consumer product safety commission recommends ground cover at least 12 inches deep for playground areas, she said.

Town officials have already dismantled some park equipment in an effort to clean up the area and make it a safer spot for children to play, Andy Ebbert said. Among the items carted away was the park’s sandbox, which had become little more than a litterbox for area cats.

While past park committee members — the board has since dissolved for lack of interest — focused on trying to secure funding for playground equipment for toddler-aged children, town council member Becky Perkins believes older kids deserve new equipment, too.

“Ten- to 14-year-olds have nothing to do in this town,” she said.

Theresa Ebbert suggested organizers could look into challenge course-type equipment, like balance beams, pull-up bars or a tire obstacle like football teams use.

Andy Ebbert had hoped to have 30 to 40 people attend a recent call-out meeting for ideas on improving the park that drew about a dozen; he’s still looking for people whose children or grandchildren play in the park to step up and become a part of the improvement effort.

How you can help

Shirley Visionaries is seeking community members to help with efforts to improve the town’s park. To get involved, contact Andy Ebbert at 765-738-6590.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.