Apprehension over losing a neighborhood park to vandals prompted some central city residents to roll up their sleeves and turn it into a play place for children.

About a year ago, people living near Exchange Park, 940 N. 700 West, met to organize a Neighborhood Watch program. During the meeting, they expressed concern about the park becoming infested with crime and gang graffiti. They also lamented the lack of playground equipment. The park only had a swing set and two metal slides, and some of that equipment was broken but never repaired after a storm in 1995.Residents figured a new playground would entice families to spend more time at the park. The idea quickly turned into a neighborhood project that culminated with the celebration Saturday of a new, brightly colored playground and a safer park.

"It was a long project. It wasn't over just on a Saturday," said resident Mary-Clare Maslyn who, along with Barbara Kinghorn, spearheaded the neighborhood effort.

And maintaining the new equipment and keeping taggers out will be an ongoing effort. Residents already have had to wash graffiti from the new equipment, Maslyn said. She's hoping the presence of people in the park will deter criminal activity.

"We're betting on the families," Kinghorn said.

Some 250 residents put in about 1,500 hours the past year painting pavilions and restrooms, scrubbing grills and trimming trees. Children cleared rocks from under trees and painted exercise equipment and benches. Volunteers also removed truckloads of brush that grew over the popular Provo River Parkway Trail that runs through the park.

"There was never a time when people didn't show up to work," Maslyn said. "It was just a total community effort."

All that labor earned the neighborhood $30,000 from the Provo City Council's neighborhood matching grant program. The money was used to install the modern playground complete with tunnels, educational activities and, of course, slides and swings. The city also upgraded the lights in the park.

The council has budgeted $50,000 a year the past three years to help Provoans improve their neighborhoods. Projects are scrutinized and prioritized by a seven-member committee comprised of two city officials and five residents who represent geographical areas throughout the city. Past projects include tree planting, painting old houses and compiling emergency resources.

The project was successful because three neighborhoods banded together and pooled their resources, Kinghorn said.

LeRoy Transfield, a local artist, will put the crowning touch on Exchange Park in a few weeks: a life-size bronze sculpture of a girl blowing bubbles. A plaque commemorating the neighborhood's effort will stand next to the statue.

Transfield unveiled a model Saturday before children were handed a bottle of bubbles and turned loose on the playground.

"It was just great to see all those kids playing on the equipment and blowing bubbles," Maslyn said.