Jun. 18—WALTON — Mike Robison had a vision.
He wanted to build a safe, fun playground for children, regardless of their abilities. But when the Walton resident unexpectedly passed away in April 2021, his plans went with him — or so many thought.
But thanks to a few local residents spearheading the drive, this Cass County community is joining forces to make sure the former law enforcement officer and U.S. Postal Service worker's vision comes to fruition.
Robison had a heart for children, said Walton Town Manager Rick Lee. "He made a difference, and his thoughtfulness touched a lot of people in his 63 years."
So, building a new playground, which will be named the Mike Robison Playground, was a no-brainer, he said, adding that a campaign is underway with the hopes of raising $50,000 by Aug. 8. If successful, Walton will receive a matching grant as part of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority's CreatINg Places program.
"IHCDA and I are pleased to partner with Walton to help it reach this goal as the community looks to build a new playground for children and families," said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. "The Mike Robison Playground would be a welcomed addition to the community center and provide another reason for neighbors and residents to get together."
It's an emotional honor for Mike's wife, Anne.
"The town of Walton meant so much to Mike," she said. "He was very proud of the Community Center and would have been beyond excited to know that a playground was being added for the kids."
Lee said the 50-by-60 square foot site would be developed to the north of the Walton Community Center, 112 Depot St. A five-foot tall chain link fence with a gate would surround the playground. "This way, parents could let their 4-year-olds run free in the playground, knowing they would be kept safe."
And in honor of meeting Robison's vision, the playground would be Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA-approved. The ground would be covered in a rubber-like substance so wheelchairs could be rolled onto site. Lee said the base would be cushioned and would include a specialized draining process, which would ensure that debris would not be tracked off site. Various equipment, including a swing, will be wheelchair-accessible.
In addition, there will be benches, other swing sets, monkey bars, and a multi-functional climbing set with a slide, pole, and at least four different functions.
"This playground ... will benefit all the kids of Walton, including those with physical challenges," said Mike Sailors, council member. "This will honor Mike's dream for a safe place downtown for kids and families to gather and enjoy being outside."
Anne agreed, saying that she and her family "are honored and humbled that members of the community are working so hard to raise money so that Mike's Playground can become a reality."
"We want to fill the area up with equipment for kids," Lee said, adding that so far, people have donated approximately $12,000.
But there's still a long way to go, which is why he's hoping people will contribute any amount to the project. No amount is too small, he said, pointing out that online donations could be made through the following website: Patronicity.com/Waltonplayground. In-person donations or mailed checks could be dropped off or sent to the Town of Walton, 100 Depot St., Walton, Ind., 46994.
Lee said the current playground at the town park has been around for years with a private donor providing new equipment about eight years ago. That $17,000 investment brought about new swings and a jungle gym.
However, the current vision will encompass all children, he said. "We want to make this happen. Not only for the children, but because it would enhance our downtown and the community center, which has been open for 11 months."
In that timeframe, the site has been rented at least 30 times. With the addition of the new playground, the center could provide a perfect location for family reunions or get-togethers of any kind, Lee said, cautioning that the current economic situation might make it difficult to stay on the timeline he would prefer.
Because it's so hard to find a contractor who is available, Lee said, "We would need to move as soon as possible. A lot of the (equipment) is back-ordered due to COVID."
Depending on how quickly the $50,000 could be raised, the new playground would — hopefully — be available in either fall 2021 or spring of 2022.
Reach Kristi Hileman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5150