Twin Cities playgrounds go abroad

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2014 - 1:40 PM

Used Twin Cities playground sets are resurrected abroad, for use by kids in villages and towns around the world.

Volunteers dismantled playgrounds in Brooklyn Park to be donated to a group called Kids Around the World, a nonprofit that brings second-hand playground equipment to third world countries.

Photo: Richard Sennott • richard.sennott@startribune.com,

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Two playground sets removed from parks in Brooklyn Park last week will rise again, perhaps in an African village where children have never seen slides and swings and climbing things.

Fourteen volunteers from Wayzata Evangelical Free Church in Plymouth dismantled the two sets, which will be refurbished and shipped overseas by Kids Around the World, a Rockford, Ill., nonprofit. Since 1994, Kids has sent about 360 playgrounds — 49 from the Twin Cities — to more than 50 nations on five continents, said volunteer leader Paul Bierhaus, a Kids board member and retired detective living in Plymouth.

Kids is a Christian organization that has installed secondhand playgrounds in nations from Ecuador to Uganda to Kyrgyzstan and China.

“Playgrounds change communities,” said Bierhaus, who has installed them in many countries. “It’s a way of bringing ethnicities together.”

Brooklyn Park, which has donated six used playground sets, is a leading giver along with Ply­mouth and St. Louis Park, Bierhaus said. Other area cities giving away playgrounds include Hopkins, Coon Rapids, Woodbury, Burnsville and Eagan.

“It is a great way to reuse stuff,” said Greg Hoag, park and building maintenance superintendent for Brooklyn Park. “If we take it down, most of it goes to a landfill, which costs money.”

Hoag said a city worker helped the Plymouth volunteers by using a tractor and chains to yank jungle gym footings out of the ground. The volunteers cut support poles at the base and dismantled the slides, bridges and climbing equipment. Hoag said the city replaces playgrounds about every 20 years.

“It’s a win-win-win,” said Bierhaus, 71. “We help the city save money; we take a playground that would go to a landfill and refurbish it for somebody else, and we feel real good about ourselves.”

He said the two playground sets were loaded into a rental truck with one pulled from a park in St. Paul last week. They will be driven to Rockford for repairs and painting so they will last another 15 years. Kids compiles a catalog of available sets, ranging from $7,000 to $20,000, and works with charities, churches, companies or individuals who want to donate playgrounds abroad, Bierhaus said. Donors pay about 20 percent of a new set’s cost to have a restored playground installed in another country, he said.

Kids has an annual budget exceeding $3.3 million, with paid staff in California and Rockford, where it has storage and repair facilities. Only its Minnesota arm is run with volunteers, Bierhaus said.

Money-saving switch

Before 2010, Kids only bought and installed new playground sets, which cost $50,000 or more. About 100 new sets were installed over 15 years. Some went to states hit by Hurricane Katrina. The rest were shipped abroad, including to cities in Ukraine, Asia and Central and South America.

Then a city park director suggested that Kids try working with used playgrounds. Finding the idea viable, Kids switched to used sets and playground giving mushroomed. Since 2010, Kids has installed about 260 used sets in Europe, Asia, Caribbean islands and most recently Africa, Bierhaus said.

Two of the first four playgrounds from Brooklyn Park went to Haiti in 2012 and Uganda last year, he said.

He said Kids has installed sets in many communist or formerly communist nations that didn’t have playgrounds, including Poland, Cuba and North Korea.

Playgrounds bring not only kids together, but their parents, who talk while watching them, sometimes easing local tensions. Bierhaus said a California playground was installed last year at a Baptist church in Bethlehem, where Christian and Muslim kids now play together.

Bierhaus, whose 14 Ply­mouth volunteers are mostly retired guys, says he keeps scheduling and doing the strenuous playground dismantling because of the kids.

“When I see the joy we are able to give kids who are in great need from war or poverty or disasters, if we can give them the gift of a playground by giving a little bit of ourselves, that makes it all worthwhile.”

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