Kids Kingdom Founders Hope for Bigger, Better Replacement

For more than a decade it has been one of the most often used playgrounds in Evansville but the days of Kids Kingdom are numbered because of an upcoming Evansville Water and Sewer Utility project. Despite this, the founders of the park, Police Chief Billy Bolin and Lieutenant Paul Kirby, are beyond hopeful that Kids Kingdom 2.0 will be bigger and better.

The water and sewer utility is seeking public input on the future of a new Kids Kingdom playground near the riverfront. As part of the ongoing, EPA-mandated sewer overhaul project, construction will begin in 2019 on a new pumping station that will take the place of Kids Kingdom. There are a series of pipes underneath the park right now that connect to the water treatment plant on Waterworks Road.

For Chief Bolin and Lt. Kirby, Kids Kingdom has an immense amount of sentimental value.

"It's almost like a second home here," Chief Bolin said. "It puts a smile on your face knowing you had a part in it. All of these years later to come back and see it packed with kids is pretty cool."

Bolin and Kirby were both hired on at the police department on the same day. In 2001, the two men were patrolling the water treatment plant when the idea for Kids Kingdom was born. Both veteran officers had young children, which led them to realize a large void on the riverfront.

There wasn't much for families to do, especially those with young children.

After more than two years of soliciting and collecting $130,000 in private donations and sponsorships, construction began in April 2004. Six days later, thanks to the effort of more than 1300 volunteers, construction on the park completed. The name of 'Kids Kingdom' was coined by a fourth grade student at an EVSC school, Bolin said.

"We don't see it as our playground. We see it as Evansville's playground. That was the whole idea from the beginning," Kirby said. "That's what I take the most pride in is that we got something done for everybody and people that don't even know us have something to share. That's the lasting legacy I think."

Bolin and Kirby's names read first on the plaque commemorating the construction. The two men often downplay their involvement in the playground coming to fruition, crediting the work of the hundreds of volunteers, corporate sponsors and private donors. The impending demolition of the park is bittersweet, Bolin said, but planning is already underway for the next version of Kids Kingdom.

"It's more than hope," Bolin said. "I've been included in a lot of the early meetings and they're getting public input. I know for certain we're going to have a replacement."

While there are no designs or concrete plans at this point, Bolin hopes the new playground is near the Evansville museum.

"If [the playground] was just going away I would say that it's not good for the community," Kirby said. "Now, we can have something to look forward to. Maybe a bigger and better [playground] built by the community. It will still instill that pride again maybe for another 20 years."

Bolin said the utility's pumping station project might actually be a blessing in disguise. The equipment at Kids Kingdom, while still safe, is nearing the end of its lifespan.


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