A group studying the effects on Waco of the Branch Davidian siege and fire proposed Tuesday that the community build a large playground in memory of the 25 children who died at Mount Carmel.
Before Waco knows it, it will be the first anniversary of the botched Feb. 28 raid at Mount Carmel and the April 19 fire that ended the ensuing siege.
News media will flock back to town to see how Waco remembers, according to the Waco Image Task Force.
“The question they’re going to ask is: What is Waco, Texas, one year later?” said task force member John Fletcher.
One way residents can answer that is to spend the seven weekends between the anniversaries building the playground, said Mayor Bob Sheehy.
It also could be a way, he said, for residents to deal with the emotional aftermath of the disaster.
“Any time the whole community would get together and undertake a project this large — and it will probably require several hundred people —it is very healthy for the community,” Sheehy said.
“And especially the fact that it is dedicated as a result of the loss of the children in the fire will probably have a beneficial effect on the community,” he said.
A playground, perhaps built in or near the Cameron Park Zoo, would symbolize to the world the kind of city Waco wants to be, Fletcher said.
“It’s a city for families,” he said. “It’s a city that focuses on children.”
Sheehy said the task force will continue to study the playground idea to see if it can get a definite plan by year’s end.
Since May, the Waco Image Task Force has been looking at the effects of the Mount Carmel tragedy and at how Waco can benefit from the worldwide attention it brought.
Made up of officials from several governmental, educational and business organizations, the group has come up with many “novel ideas,” Sheehy said.
In addition to the playground proposal, the task force has produced a pamphlet that tells what happened at Mount Carmel.
Also in the works is a crisis communications notebook, in which various businesses and organizations will write about how the standoff affected them.
Among the target audiences for the book will be other cities, so they know what to expect in a crisis, said Fletcher, an advertising executive and chairman of the task force’s media committee.
“We’re trying to learn what pressures were on the infrastructure and other elements of the society,” he said.
Sheehy said the city has bounced back well from the Mount Carmel tragedy, even though next week’s six-month anniversary of the fire and other milestones will bring Waco much siege-related attention.
“I think the city has done a pretty good job of putting it behind us and going along with our business,” Sheehy said. “We are more aware of what kind of community we have, and we are working together well.”
Fletcher said the playground could be modeled on “Kidsville” projects found in Corpus Christi, Colleyville and other cities.
Those playgrounds include networks of ladders, slides, catwalks, fort-like structures and other features, and range in price from $20,000 to $100,000, Fletcher said.
“It’s not a little playground,” Fletcher said. “It’s a substantial playground.”
The details, like how to pay for the playground and where it would be, have not been worked out, but some task force members said it is an ideal weekend project for volunteers.
Some compared it to the playground recently built at Mountainview Elementary School.
Groups that could help include Habitat for Humanity, the Heart of Texas Builders Association and the out-of-town law enforcement officers who came to Waco during the siege, task force members said.
“As a practical matter, we recognize we will be in the forefront of attention again and, as a result, it will be on everyone’s mind,” said Sheehy of the Mount Carmel anniversary.
“This will be a good way to exert some energy to counter what could be a negative reminder of the whole thing,” he said.