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9 - Liberty Park: The Park the People Built

On August 27, 1997, 11-year-old Evan Altshuler appealed to the City of Parkland commissioners to approve a site for a new park in Parkland. According to a September 4, 1997 article in The Coral Springs/Parkland Forum, the concept to build the park came from Parkland residents Connie Light and Katie Leyland, wife of then Florida Marlin’s Manager Jim Leyland. The two ladies met with then-Mayor Sal Pagliara and started a steering group of interested people.

John H. Quigley Park on Parkside Drive had been dedicated in 1989 and was primarily used for baseball while Terramar Park on Hillsboro had multi-purpose fields and tennis courts.

According to Connie Light, “The key to building Liberty Park was that it was not just about swings and playground equipment, it was about building community. After watching people come together at parks outside Parkland, the goal was to recreate that sense of community in Parkland. When I saw how other parks pulled so many people from all walks of life together, it just amazed me. So when Katie moved into the neighborhood, I asked her to join in my efforts and she was more than willing to jump on the bandwagon!”

Parkland's Build A ParkResidents set out to design, raise money, gather the materials, organize a workforce and actually build a new park in Parkland.  

The site chosen by the committee was at 9200 NW Ranch Road just west of 87th Avenue and neighboring the yet-to-be-built Sal Pagliara City Hall.  The location was central to the city and just down the road from the Equestrian Center.  The Committee was at the September 4th, 1997 Commission meeting to request that land be set aside for the non-profit Build-A-Park Corporation which they had already formed to oversee the effort.  The Build-A-Park committee even had its own logo.

Debbie Beck served as Vice President and is credited with playing a huge role in bring the park to fruition.  Karen Klein served as Treasurer.  J.B. Frost, Coordinator of Purchased Materials for the Build-A-Park committee, was quoted in the September 4, 1997 article: (he) “explained the reasons for building the park from the ground up, as opposed to buying and installing regular playground equipment,”…was that “the cost of buying versus self-building could be two to four times as expensive.”  He also explained that with “self-building, a unique and flexible design could be achieved, plus the project could be a valuable service project for the community.”


Vice-Mayor Robert Marks, presiding in the absence of Mayor Sal Pagliara, made a motion to set aside seven acres for the park, contingent upon the acquisition of the necessary building funds, with a four-year window for completion for the project. It was unanimously approved by the Commission.   


The Build-A-Park Committee was committed to raise money to build the park and planned many fund-raising events. Estimates for the cost ranged from $125,000 to $250,000, depending on the direction the design would take.  Build-A-Park Inc. applied for tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization so that all contributions to the fund could be tax deductible for donors.  Several groups including the Parkland Women’s Club and the Riverglades Elementary School PTA pledged their support. The City contributed $10,000 in matching grant funds to Build-A-Park.   

Parkland - Playground Features   Parkland's Build A Park - Need's You
Over the next several years, the volunteer committee sold sponsorships of fence slats, bricks, tiles, etc. to organizations and individuals. They sold pumpkins, sponsored pizza delivery, built a float for the annual Parkland Days parade, held a tennis tournament benefit and had a booth at the South Florida Sportsfair. They sold posters, held school carnivals and cocktail parties for the benefit of the park.

The Committee selected a theme of Geography and the Environment for the Park. The volunteers established that the design of the park would be drawn from ideas coming from another event, “Design Day” in February 1998. Children were asked to draw pictures of what they would like their park to look like which would then lead to a conceptual plan. The New York architectural firm of Robert Leathers and Associates, Inc., who had at the time built over 1300 similar parks, was selected to do the design. On Design Day, children and teens worked with the architects to design the park. Once a conceptual plan was agreed upon, no further action was taken until the entire amount of money needed to build the park was in the bank. The eventual design had to meet all of Parkland’s building codes, and it did.


During 1998, the Committee actively pursued corporate donations from businesses both large and small.  Each component of the Park (Statue of Liberty tube slide, Mt. Rushmore slide, Northwest tree fort spiral slide, California earthquake, Yellowstone geyser, suspension bridge, Niagara Falls slide, a volcano slide and pole, tunnel lighthouse, and alligator slide) had a donation amount associated with it as did each playground feature (slides, rings, cargo nets, obstacle course, climbers, swings, rubber bridge and wheelchair access ramp).  Their goal was for every family in Parkland to contribute to making the Park a reality.


The design and architectural rendering of the layout for Parkland’s Build-A-Park went on display at City Hall for residents’ input.  Barbara Marrs, Publicity Chairperson, wrote in a 1997 issue of the Parklander, “In the Tot portion of the park, little kids will have a puppet theatre, rubber bridge, alligator slide, sandbox ship and tunnel lighthouse, as well as low rings and a water play area. Parents can sit and lunch at the picnic tables and game tables or under the shade of chickee huts and trees. Older children will enjoy the crazy climb, earthquake floor, geyser, trolley ride, USA maze and game, obstacle course, Niagara Falls, suspension bridge, swings, rings, and slides galore.”

Barbara Marrs was quoted in the September 4th article in The Forum, “I feel our people are yearning for a chance to help their city themselves. There’s a parallel here to an old-fashioned barn raising.”  Hundreds of Parkland citizens donated funds toward the ultimate construction costs! 


Then on “Building Day” (actually Building Week), February 12 (Lincoln’s Birthday) to February 19th (President’s Day), the entire community would build the structures using materials purchased from Leathers and Associates and tools lent by area businesses and residents. There was a job for everyone! 


It was an incredible four days of construction over President’s Day weekend. 

According to Connie Light: “What was most incredible about the entire project was build week. People who lived on the same street and those who attended the same church or synagogue but had never met, were side by side laughing, talking, eating and working together.  We made connections and we brought a group of people together. People from all parts of Parkland and beyond came together to work for this common goal.”

Residents turned out to hammer, saw, move earth, cook for the volunteers, watch kids for families so that others could work, etc. Teenagers came for a few service hours, then stayed and kept coming back just for the excitement of what the community was doing. They had AmeriCorps volunteers there the whole week before and during construction to assist. WCI, Parkland’s largest home builder, donated the bathrooms and some labor. David Rosenof, a present City Commissioner, served as the project supervisor. Reflecting back, one resident said, “it was absolutely an outpouring of support from the entire community; something Parkland did so well in those days! All these years later, I can still feel the electricity—that’s how incredible it was building Liberty Park.” And another resident said, “It was a week I will never forget. Our goal was realized! The park stands not as a playground, but as a sense of community.”

November 3, 2001, the Build-A-Park Committee held the dedication ceremony for Parkland’s Liberty Park!

The program at the dedication ceremony stated: “The project was named Liberty Park upon the recommendation of the Build-A-Park Committee and the unanimous approval of the Mayor and City Commission. This action was taken on January 17, 2001 (because the name) seemed appropriate with overall theme of the facility. Of course the name and theme of the facility became even more timely and appropriate since it is a public and permanent dedication of our patriotism, sentiments, and pride in our community and our nation.”


Written by James Weiss; Archive Retrieval by Pierre Hodot; Edited by Ira Goldman, Sandra Weiss and Carolyn Marks; Parkland Historical Society President Jeff Schwartz;