Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Natural Playground Update

Several weeks ago I presented the idea of creating a natural playground at Bryant Park, surrounding the new Tryon library, and the City Council wholeheartedly supported a new way of thinking about and designing parks.

Bryant Park in many ways provides a great proving ground in Pensacola for a natural playground. Primarily an empty field prior to the construction of the library, the original design for the park included a walking trail and a standard plastic playground structure. Armed with a new direction, City Parks and Recreations staff began working with the architects and others involved in the park to modify the plan to become a natural playground.

In Pensacola we have no expertise in natural playground (there are none in Florida, as far as I am aware), so staff and the architects enlisted the help of Natural Playgrounds Company to explore this idea. I recently had the pleasure of attending a meeting with the architects overseeing the project, Parks and Rec director David Flaherty, John Ewing (Parks department Project Manager), and Doug Durden, the supervisor of park maintenance. They had asked Ron King and his son, both of Natural Playgrounds Company, to come to town for a site visit. (The visit was held during some of the rainy weather we have been having, which Mr. King thought was a great time, since they could see some of the real conditions the park will experience.)

We all came out of the meeting energized and excited about this new park. Mr. King described some of his ideas about elements to incorporate in the site. He was very sensitive to the experience of the site, such as views of the park as well as the relationship with the adjoining neighbors. The original plans had a walking trail around the park, and the current plan is for that to stay, with major play elements in the center as well as some scattered around the park. Mr. King was particularly conscious of the fact that this is a park around a library, noting the potential for outdoor activities and the appeal of quiet places for reflection and reading. Among the ideas were:
  • a 10 ft tall hill with built in slides and climbing walls,
  • an amphitheater,
  • a frog bog,
  • a bridge across the shallow retention pond planned for the site.
And there is good news regarding costs. The rough estimates are that the park will come in within budget even considering that this is going to be a change order with the architects. One of the benefits of this natural playground over the traditional structure originally planned is that most of the money that will be spent will be spent on local landscapers and local materials, rather than being paid to a manufacture in another community.

The architects and park staff will work with Mr. King on the design which should be forthcoming in late May or early June. Citizen input is certainly welcome, so send me your ideas. Look for this natural playground to be completed some time this fall. Bring your kids and grandkids. Then let me know what you think.