Hollis Parks Project launches fundraiser for enhancing playgrounds

HOLLIS – After a year of research, planning, presentations to town officials and passage of a warrant article, the Hollis Parks Project has launched its campaign to raise money for rebuilding the playgrounds at Nichols Field on Depot Road and Little Nichols Field adjacent to the Hollis Social Library.

In addition to new play structures, the group hopes to create more of a community environment by providing recreation opportunities for people of all ages.

Voters passed an amended warrant article in March, where the town has agreed to contribute $10,000 to the project once the committee raises $40,000. That campaign has begun and will run through June 30, which would allow for work to begin in the summer. The main avenue of the fundraiser is selling commemorative bricks to line the patio at Little Nichols Field. A four-by-eight-inch brick is available for $125, with a double sized eight-by-eight brick for $225.

“I think it is a neat thing, so people can have their name in a commemorative way right in the center of town,” said Anna Birch, chairwoman of the project. “They can choose a quote from a book, a family name or a brick for each of their children. Kids can do fundraising to get money from their loved ones for their brick, and it is also a good opportunity for organizations and businesses to contribute.”

In addition to the sale of bricks, the committee hopes to receive major donations, which will be recognized with something permanent like having the donor’s name on a granite bench or chess table.

Getting the kids involved

“When we go to the library we love to go to the playground, but it could be a lot nicer,” said Arthur’s 10-year-old daughter Kail, who has two younger siblings. “My mom was showing me the things they wanted to do and I think kids would love it. We do soccer on Sundays at Big Nichols Field, and it would be nice if there was a playground to play on when we’re not on the field. We get bored when it’s someone else’s turn to play.”

Excited by the potential, Kail has started her own fundraiser to help with the parks project. Since the bricks will be behind the library, the fifth-grader is making and selling bookmarks to raise money to purchase a brick.

“I did a persuasive letter earlier in the year and my teacher said it was good,” Kail explained. “I feel strongly about getting a playground for Hollis that will benefit kids for a long time and I wanted to do something for it.”

She has several cutouts and designs for her construction paper bookmarks, and has printed out the quote she plans on using on her brick, spoken by headmaster Albus Dumbledore in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows,” the final book in the series: “Of course it is happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Background on Nichols Field

Charles Nichols was one of several people to donate land on Depot Road to the town of Hollis for recreational public use. He and his wife, Marian, owned Buttonwood Farm on Main Street, and in 1927, they donated the land adjacent to the library to be used as a baseball field and for recreation. A plaque there reads, “Erected in memory of Charles J. Nichols, by the schoolchildren and townspeople and friends of Hollis, 1930.”

The seed is planted

The Hollis Parks Project began from the frustration that Birch and other parents felt with the current status of the playgrounds. Families who play sports at Nichols Field typically bring siblings along. Those children not engaged on the field play on the bleachers, the fence and the one swing set.

“A lot of Hollis people go to Keyes Park in Milford or Roby Park in Nashua, but if you build it, they will come,” said Birch, a Hollis native who currently lives in the house she grew up in. Her grandmother was Hilda Hildreth, well-known for running the local telephone company.

“When kids are happy playing and fully occupied on engaging playgrounds, parents are able to connect with one another and make connections and friendships that benefit families and our town,” she continued. “Many a great idea is born, and many friendships are made while watching kids happily occupied on a playground. Simply put, playgrounds build community.”

Birch decided to take action on filling the need, and got to work by talking with Town Administrator Troy Brown, the Recreation Commission, the selectmen, community organizations, and, of course, other families. She researched everything from types of equipment available to stipulations on lands donated to the town, historic district regulations, water tables and landscaping.

What began as the Hollis Playground Project was renamed the Hollis Parks Project, and now has five committee members and more than 30 volunteers. Its official mission statement is “to foster community connections and provide high quality recreation opportunities for all by creating, enlarging and improving Hollis’ public parks.”

“I have been working with the Recreation Commission since June,” Birch said. “They are very supportive of our plans and approve of what we are doing. They don’t have a big budget, so it was clear we were going to have to raise money. Because we went through the petition warrant process, we gave this project a lot of visibility.”

Gaining momentum

Michelle St. John moved to Hollis in June 2013 and lives close to Nichols Field. She has two children, ages 6 and 9. She has a background in fundraising and eagerly agreed to serve on the committee.

“I felt that this was a great opportunity for me to get involved and meet new people in town and to beautify the area,” she said. “The more we chatted, the more I bought into the concept that we need more opportunities for play in town. I was surprised that there wasn’t a great place in town for gathering so it’s nice to be able to expand the opportunities.”

St. John’s mother lives with her family, so she is particularly glad that the parks are being designed with benches, chess tables and other features that will appeal to people of all ages and provide opportunities for multi-generational interaction.

Committee member Brooke Arthur has a similar viewpoint about the need for outdoor recreation space and what the new design will provide. She met Birch and others while they were all hanging around the current playground with their children.

“I move here four years ago from Nashua to be part of a more rural setting,” Arthur said. “I work with young children, and the opportunity to play and be outside is important. Having a central place where the community can gather and know other people will be there is great. Building community bonds is what makes wonderful towns. We are lucky we have the space there and noticed it needed more love and attention. All of us have young children, but everyone in the group has made time in our lives to make this a priority.”

Design plans for Nichols Field

Because of the amount of athletic activities on the field as well as its use for large events like Old Home Days, the committee faced limitations in where permanent play structures could be installed. More swings will be added to the existing set, including handicap accessible swings. A new 20-by-20-foot play structure will be erected at the end of the track near the snack shack, with a 30-by-28-foot protective area. The sand/hunter green colored equipment has been approved by the Historic Commission, and is geared toward ages 2-12. The design will also incorporate various benches and picnic tables for all to enjoy in the shade of the nearby trees.

Little Nichols Field

Since it is adjacent to the Hollis Social Library along Monument Square, Birch said the goal is to create more of a park atmosphere at Little Nichols Field, to be enjoyed by young children, teens and adults.

The existing swing set will be updated with the addition of two baby swings and two handicapped swings. New pieces include a Pegasus climber and a 10 spin. There will also be granite chess tables and benches.

“The middle schoolers come here and enjoy the library, but you can only do so much studying,” said Lucinda Mazza, director of the Hollis Social Library. “It will be nice if people can come to the center of town, go to the library and take out some books or go to a program, and then go play outside. It’ll be nice for the seniors to have benches in the center of town, too.”

The library already has Frisbees that patrons can check out, so it will be easy to add chess pieces to be used outside. Mazza also said that the park landscaping extends right up to the library, which will make it more attractive and easier for maintenance.

Buying bricks

A four-by-eight-inch brick, with up to three lines of text, is available for $125, with a double sized eight-by-eight brick, and up to four lines of text for $225. Go to www.hollisplays.org for details on how to order bricks or donate.

Because the Hollis Parks Project was not established as a nonprofit organization, all donations must be processed by through a special recreation fund set up by the town, with payment similar to sports registration. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made online by credit card or by mailing in a check to Hollis Parks Project, P.O. Box 106, Hollis, NH 03049.

If the $40,000 fundraising goal is met by the end of June, the town will contribute the $10,000 approved by voters in March, and site preparation and construction would occur over the summer and fall.