NORTH CENTER — A playdate in summer 2010 sparked an effort that culminated Saturday in the dedication of a renovated Filbert Playlot.
"We got here and it was in a state of disrepair," said Emily Klingensmith, recalling her first encounter with Filbert, which is situated on Larchmont Avenue, just behind the Irving Park Brown Line station and immediately adjacent to the "L" tracks (a popular feature with the youngsters).
Within three years, Friends of Filbert, led by Klingensmith, had collected the funds necessary to realize their vision of a modernized playlot, which now boasts a soft play surface instead of wood chips, shaded picnic tables and all new equipment that meets current safety standards.
As the only playground within a seven-block radius and with three large daycare/pre-school facilities in the vicinity, demand for a revamped Filbert was high.
"You get home at five o'clock and you need to kill 40 minutes with the kids, this is perfect," said Adam DeWitt, who chased down his 4-year-old and 16-month-old twins as they raced from swings to slides during the grand opening event.
Neighborhood mom Laura Steck has "two boys that need to get outside and run around." She's been hauling her 2-year-old and 8-month-old to Welles Park and was thrilled to now have Filbert open closer to home.
"It's perfect timing," she said, adding that she was pregnant with her first child at the inaugural meeting of what was to become Friends of Filbert Playlot.
Rotting wood, mold and the lack of a fence were among the conditions the group originally brought to the attention of then-Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th).
"We were pretty naive at the time," said Klingensmith, in thinking the buck stopped with Schulter.
Though the alderman pledged $100,000 in discretionary funds toward park improvements — a commitment honored by his successor, Ald. Ameya Pawar, elected in 2011 — Klingensmith was quickly apprised of the Park District's formula for funding playground renovation, which calls for a one-third split among the alderman, the Park District and private dollars.
Even a small park like Filbert can run up a tab of $300,000 for new equipment, which meant Filbert's neighborhood fans needed to raise $100,000 on their own.
"Government cannot do everything by itself," Schulter said at the ceremony. "It needs people to get involved, for our parks, our schools and our community."
Klingensmith recruited neighbors from her condo building, home to a sizeable percentage of families with young children, to assist in the effort, including Ryan McDaniel, who served as Friends of Filbert's treasurer.
"It all basically happened because of her," McDaniel said, crediting Klingensmith's "sheer force of will."
"Emily kept pushing people to open their checkbooks," he said.
As she surveyed the swarm of little ones who rushed the playlot on opening day — many of whom had attended their share of meetings and fundraising events — Klingensmith reflected on the secret to Friends of Filbert's success.
"Get as much of the neighborhood involved as possible," she said. "If you roll up your sleeves, if people really go after it...it's doable."