While playground lovers young and old are excited to see some new features planned for the 30-year-old Bear Creek Park play structure in Medford, there seems to be a consensus that the “castle park” vibe be maintained.
A community meeting held last week to solicit input on plans to replace the aging structure along Siskiyou Boulevard in east Medford attracted nearly 100 residents, and 240 surveys were submitted with suggestions for the playground.
Built in 1987, the sprawling wood plank structure was designed by nationally renowned playground architects Leathers Inc. following a community process that helped design, fundraise and build the structure of slides, swings, towers and bridges.
After three decades of use, the well-worn wooden planks, winding slides and other features have gradually been replaced or removed, and areas surrounding the playground are showing signs of wear and tear.
A dilapidated old restroom sits to one side of the play structure, while signs of wood rot are evident throughout.
Just as children drew design ideas and dreamed up suggestions for the structure in 1987, students from Hoover and Roosevelt elementary schools were included in the current process — again shepherded by Leathers, which has offices in New York and Florida.
Kids' ideas included dual ziplines on which they could race, along with a trampoline-like area to jump and possibly some climbing walls and “twisty” slides.
Leathers designer Jim Houghton, who is leading the Bear Creek project, said community attachment to a Leathers-built playground is almost a trademark of the more than 3,200 structures that have been built in more than a half-dozen countries since the company was founded in 1971.
“Our playgrounds, both because of the community-build model and the unique trust of nature, people get very attached to them,” Houghton said. "It makes it a bit of a transition when it finally comes time to replace the playgrounds, but it does provide a new generation the chance to participate in the community build. We end up with a combination of the best of the old and some new things added on.”
Houghton said the Medford playground had been maintained better than a lot of “the older ones” he’d helped replace.
While the “castle park” theme of the playground is nostalgic for residents, Houghton said students were excited to help dream up new features to modernize its replacement.
Parents' requests included better visibility of children inside the structure and handicap accessibility. The suggestions from kids and adults alike will go into the planning.
“What we have at this point is a conceptual design that was created in an afternoon, so there is still a ways to go,” Houghton said.
“But it’s all part of the process to make sure that the community is able to give us plenty of input.”
With a rendering and in-depth design, details and anticipated costs are expected within a few weeks. Tim Stevens, Medford park maintenance supervisor, said officials would use the final rendering to help secure sponsorships and other fundraising and will work with Leathers to devise a replacement timeline. The city would like to see the new structure built next summer.
“The survey was only out for a week, and we had a lot of feedback, so we know this is a project that a lot of community members feel strongly about,” Stevens said.
“While most people seem to realize it needs to be replaced, there was a consensus that they wanted to try to retain the castle-like feel. However, they did want it to be more accessible for children with disabilities and for there to be better visibility throughout the structure,” Stevens said.
“At this point, we have a hand-drawn top view of the playground. But a lot of work will begin happening once we get the finalized design.”
For more on Leathers' projects, see http://leathersassociates.com.
— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.