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Blue Heron Park playground set for rebuild

Courtesy photo The former playground at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix was on a a ground-cover of wood chips, which served as kindling when the Almeda fire ripped through the area in September 2020.

Phoenix’s Blue Heron Park playground, destroyed by the Almeda fire, will get a half-million-dollar restoration, and more amenities may be added through community fundraising and volunteer work.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide $374,600 for the rebuild, while a Business Oregon grant will provide a match of $124,866. FEMA requirements limit the work it will fund to the original playground footprint with similar structures.

Phoenix City Council approved a contract Sept. 20 with Playcraft Systems of Grants Pass to provide the equipment and installation at the site. Formation of an ad hoc committee of citizens and Parks and Recreation Committee representatives to fundraise to provide additional features, coordinate volunteer efforts and plan events was also approved.

“It’s really going to be a transformation. I think it’s going to be a great thing for not only the community, but specifically the children. Our children were affected by this disaster and I think it’s important that they have things … they will really benefit from, being outside playing,” said City Manager Eric Swanson. He said the new playground will be a huge improvement over what existed previously.

Designing it to allow as many children as possible to participate through ADA compliance was important, along with making it more fire resistant, Swanson told the council. FEMA worked with city representatives who sought upgrades over previous installations.

FEMA oversaw the scope of the project due to the size and cost, said Dawn Lamb, with RH2 Engineering, which has assisted the city in working with FEMA on fire recovery. Oregon Department of Transportation handled post-fire site cleanup.

The setting of the old playground was covered with wood chips, which fueled the destruction of the Almeda fire. After consultation with FEMA, the agency allowed installation of a rubber tile system.

“They were like a barbecue,” Lamb said about the chips. She said the city’s parks master plan showed a need for more inclusivity at the playground.

Features to include opportunity for accessibility-limited children are included throughout the playground. Those include an inclusive merry-go-round with provisions for wheelchairs, swing with seat specially designed to aid transfers, a zipline with similar seating, a ramp-accessible play structure, and a sensory wall with ramp with items to encourage dexterity and provide auditory stimulation.

Margaret Miller of Playcraft briefed the council on the features. The company had installed the previous features in 2005. Miller said 15 to 20 years is the usual anticipated life for such equipment.

Two other sensory activity walls will be installed with features to promote learning and provide play with patterns, numbers and letters. There will be two music panels with mallets and chimes, swings for all, a rope play sky dome and a play feature with climbers, slides and traverses.

The zipline runs on a track system with an extruded beam rather than a cable, said Miller. It will fit in a space 69 feet long by 31 feet wide.

The playground is in two areas separated by a space that will need amenities to allow parents to enjoy watching their children. Benches, picnic tables and some sort of shade could be features not covered by FEMA that might come from volunteer labor and donations. Trees that provided shade there in the past were lost in the fire, and replanted trees won’t provide as much shade.

Names are being solicited this week for volunteers to head the ad hoc committee leadership team, said Swanson. He said outreach will also be made to Rotary clubs in the area, which have a history of supporting such parks projects in the past. Grants Pass Rotary is known for its expertise in building parks, said Swanson.

In addition, the city expects to work with Rotary clubs to secure grants that would help fund the effort. Playcraft has provided a list of potential grant-awarding groups.

Phoenix Public Works Department will also be involved in the playground’s creation, said Swanson, who described it as an “all hands on deck” effort by city staff.

A timeline submitted with the project shows creation of playground equipment and securing the rubber tiles going into December. Fundraising activities are shown during October through mid- December. Site preparation would take place in December, and structure assembly is set for December and January. An open house celebration is tentatively listed for Jan. 28.

Weather conditions will play a role in the completion time, said Miller. The rubber tiles need dry conditions for application of adhesives.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.