Belleair Mayor Gary Katica, center, surrounded by children and members of the Town Commission, cuts the ribbon to officially open the new Belleair playground, located in the field adjacent to the Dimmitt Community Center.
BELLEAIR – Normally children don’t rush to attend ribbon-cutting ceremonies with their long, seemingly never-ending, speeches. Yet dozens of children showed up Sept. 17 at a ribbon cutting ceremony in Belleair.
The reason was easy to grasp – the ceremony was for the opening of the new community playground in the field adjacent to the Dimmitt Community Center.
There were no speeches. In fact, Mayor Gary Katica, as he cut the ribbon, said simply: “This is for the kids, not for me to be talking.” With that, using over-sized scissors, he snipped the red ribbon and the $60,000 playground was officially open.
Later, Katica had plenty to say about the reason for the new playground.
Back in March a wayward driver drove his truck through the fence and slammed into the playground, demolishing most of it. Even though children were there, no one was hurt and the driver eventually was charged with careless driving.
“God was on our side when that truck came through,” said Katica. “It ended up out there in the field.”
After the incident the town decided to rebuild the playground bigger and better than before. Insurance paid $26,000 to settle the claim for the old structure, the new one cost more than $60,000, which drew praise from the mayor.
“What a beautiful thing this is,” he said. “I’m happy the kids can have something I never had. We didn’t have things like this in New York City where I grew up.”
Others were just as pleased.
Belleair resident Cherie Harris was there with her three children and knew the playground was successful by the way her kids reacted.
“I haven’t seen the kids since we got here,” she said. “They are all over the playground. This is a great thing. We’ll be coming back here often.”
She said that her children spent considerable times lined up for the Revo, a piece of equipment that vertically spins around with a child inside. It seemed the dizzier a child could get, the better they liked it.
Noel Wood came from Largo so her four children could enjoy the evening.
“My girls go to camp here and they love it,” she said. “This is a wonderful structure and for sure we’ll be coming here a lot.”
For Recreation Director Eric Wahlbeck, the evening couldn’t have gone better.
“The turnout is unbelievable,” he said. “I’m impressed and I particularly want to thank the staff who made this all possible. We have plenty of food for everyone and it looks like everyone is having a good time.”
Wahlbeck also reflected on the events that occurred after the original playground was struck by that truck.
“This could have gone many ways after that,” he said. “In the end, however, we got the best of all situations.”