By Mackenzie Mohr
Entirely East Lansing staff writer
In 1995, an intricate wooden play structure at Patriarche Park was built by the individuals and businesses of East Lansing. Seventeen years later, the city of East Lansing aims to “re-imagine” the Playground in the Park.
“Back in 1995, we constructed the original playground at Patriarche Park and a big part of the success of that effort was the involvement of the community,” said John Saltzgaber of the East Lansing Rotary Club, “We’re hoping to capitalize on that experience from 17 years ago and replicate it.”
Through a series of public design meetings, the city of East Lansing hopes to unify the community around the renovation of the play structure in Patriarche Park as it did over a decade ago. In addition to community involvement, the project stresses handicap accessibility for children and their families and emphasizes physical fitness, said Saltzgaber.
Updating the park
Wendy Longpre, assistant director of parks and recreation for the city, explained that wood in the original play structure was treated with CCA, a chemical that contains arsenic. In large quantities CCA-treated wood can be harmful, so it is best to remove the current structure, she said.
Diane and Richard Sinclair, president and vice president of Sinclair Recreation, attended Thursday to “get your creative juices flowing.”
“What we crave from this meeting is community input,” Richard Sinclair said, “We are limited only by imaginations in the room.”
Diane and Richard Sinclair showed a variety of renderings Thursday of playground arrangements they can create for Patriarche Park. People at the meeting gave feedback on what they would and would not like to include in the new design.
A major concern was whether to enclose the playground with a barrier to keep children from leaving the area.
Jason Fleming of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission said that when children are in the playground area, they are safe because the area is almost entirely surrounded by fencing. He said that many of the digital renderings by Sinclair Recreation were very open and had little to no fencing.
Richard Sinclair said, “What we often see people do is rather than put a fully contained fence all the way around, to put some visual buffers around that help make it feel contained, but then allows access and egress from multiple points.”
Several community members said they hope that the future structure is more open so they can see children more easily, said Saltzgaber. “They can hide in that current playground,” he said.
An important thing to remember, said Richard Sinclair, is that fencing may add significant cost to the project or decrease the play value. Enclosure remains open and will be addressed at following design meetings, he said.
Learn and play as a community
Richard Sinclair said that in addition to creating looped play routes that promote physical activity, the structure should include resting locations for children to congregate and socialize.
New features in playground equipment by Gametime are modeled after natural elements like ant hills and honeycomb, said Diane Sinclair, which promote nature exploration while giving children a place to relax.
Every structure, whether an ant hill or rock wall, is over-engineered to withstand up to 650 pounds, said Diane Sinclair. This encourages parents and adults to explore the playground with children while assuring safety for everyone at the park.
Richard Sinclair said that slides are designed to replicate the feeling of flying or falling, and their catalog includes some slides that are as steep as guidelines will allow, which kids love to race down.
With a huge variety of slides, Diane Sinclair always suggesst at least one stainless steel slide at every playground. She said this is because children with cochlear implants can be uncomfortably shocked by static electricity after playing on plastic slides.
According to the Patriarche Park web page, the fundraising goal for the project is $400,000. Businesses and individuals who would like to support Playground in the Park Re-Imagined can download pledge cards here.
The City of East Lansing wants to hear you and your children’s ideas at the next public design meeting at 7 p.m. March 10 in the East Lansing Hannah Community Center.
“It’s exciting; I started out in playground design and it’s just fun, so I hope everybody has a great time,” said Longpre.