CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For nearly 20 years, Charleston's children have been able to traverse rivers far and wide on the wooden sternwheel house at Celebration Station, the playplace located on the city's East End.A team of parents is rallying their peers and community members to celebrate the imaginative playground that many have held dear for the last two decades.The Parent-Teacher Organization of Piedmont Elementary School is hosting a community picnic Sunday as part of its fundraising kickoff to raise money for improvements to the playplace structure, which is just outside the school."The need for some renovation and improvement kind of flows from the fact that it has been in such continuous and wonderful use," said PTO President Elizabeth Wehner.Celebration Station was born out of "love for the community," according to Lesly Messina, President of Imagination Station, Inc. Christ Church United Methodist, which sits just across the street, asked then-Principal Steve Knighton what the school might need.The hunt for a creative playplace began, as church member Dayton Carpenter spearheaded the search for a company that could deliver, Messina said.Constructing Celebration Station was a community effort, said Nahla Nimeh-Lewis, an East End resident who helped build the playplace nearly 20 years ago."It was the most uplifting experience," Nimeh-Lewis said. "I just absolutely thought it was fabulous."Nimeh-Lewis recounted the day with a smile on her face, she said by telephone.
"I particularly really loved the camaraderie," she said. "It was like a big, old jungle gym with grown-ups climbing all over."The fun wasn't limited to just that day. Piedmont students and city residents alike have continued to use Celebration Station for playtime and community gatherings, Wehner said."As long as I've lived in Charleston, it has just been a vital, central feature," Wehner said. "It's really kind of emblematic of the things that are wonderful about the East End and Piedmont."The Piedmont PTO is hoping to raise at least $10,000 for the renovation and upkeep of Celebration Station, Wehner said.Sunday's picnic is a second kind of celebration. The PTO wants to hold a sendoff for Knighton, who retired in September, and welcome Principal Beth Sturgill."[Knighton] said he would agree to do it if it were both a sendoff for him and a welcome to the new principal -- sort of a way to pass the torch," Wehner said.
The Celebration Station picnic will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, rain or shine. There is no charge for admission. Hot dogs and drinks will be provided; however, there will be special snacks for sale, such as cotton candy and popcorn.Celebration Station is located next to Piedmont Elementary School on Quarrier Street, and between Morris and Bradford streets.Reach Rachel Molenda at email@example.com or 304-348-5102.