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updated: 7/31/2012 3:59 PM

Hundreds volunteer to build Dist. 2 playground

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To prepare for the merger of their two Bensenville schools, hundreds of students and parents from Mohawk and W.A. Johnson Elementary will volunteer this weekend to build a new playground.

The playground will be built Saturday by more than 200 volunteers from Bensenville District 2 and Foresters Life Insurance Company, which is underwriting the majority of the cost for the roughly $100,000 park. The effort will be led by organizers from the nonprofit group Kaboom!, which aims to provide a place to play within walking distance of every child in America.

The new park is one of many changes coming as District 2 merges its four elementary schools into two, updating learning facilities and eliminating buildings that officials say are educationally obsolete. Mohawk and Chippewa students will consolidate to Johnson and Tioga, respectively, within the next year.

"This is a way to bring two of our communities together who will soon be sharing the same school," spokeswoman Terry Ryan said.

Kaboom! selected Johnson to receive a park in May after District 2 submitted an application with the organization, which already had Foresters lined up as a sponsor. After the application process, Ryan said, Kaboom! vetted the district.

"They want to make sure you have the community support to undertake such a huge project," she said.

For its end of the deal, the district had to secure roughly $8,500 from the Bensenville Community Foundation -- and put in a lot of sweat equity. That started with the design process in late May, when about 30 students representing all grade levels at Johnson and Mohawk joined a Kaboom! representative to design their dream park.

"Their parents then came in and started on the hard work of actually designing the playground," Ryan said. "It was a long meeting that night and has been a tremendous undertaking since."

Each week for the past several months, about 15 parents had to participate in a weekly conference call with Kaboom! organizers. And on Thursday, those parents and other volunteers will work a full day delivering and sorting equipment, planning logistics and completing other preparation for the official playground build on Saturday.

Officials say Johnson's new playground eventually will serve more than 10,500 children and their families in the Bensenville community. It is one of about 100 parks across the United States and Canada that Foresters and Kaboom! have created since 2006, with a $7 million investment from the insurance company.

Kaboom! helped build a playground at Ardmore Elementary School in Addison in 2008 and, like Johnson, the school also had to raise about $10,000. But this is the first Kaboom! playground in District 2 or Bensenville, Ryan said.

"There have been many hands involved in making this project a success," she said.

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