EVEN BEFORE SHE FOUND A HOUSE ON BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Keri Russo found a playground.
For parents with a young boy in tow with excess energy to burn, the sprawling KidsUp! Playground at Battle Point Park was a must-go during any island visit, the perfect arena for a vigorous youthful romp.
“It was a huge draw,” Russo says, echoing the experience of a generation of island families and visitors who’ve enjoyed the playground over the past 18 years. Even in winter, on all but the crummiest days, you could usually find at least a few kids here, clambering around the wooden ramparts and baileys while their parents looked on.
The kids could defy the weather, but the harsh Northwest elements finally exacted their toll on the playground itself. By the time the aging play structures were taken down in January, the untreated wood was getting so rotten that the pilings and cross-pieces would barely stay upright, said Doug Slingerland, Park Services Manager for the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District.
“Neil Young has a song ‘Coming Apart at Every Nail,’ and that about sums it up,” Slingerland says. “Nearly every fastener in the old wooden structure was pulling loose because the wood was decaying. It was getting tough to hold things together.”
That was just the damage you could see. Water always pooled in the playground’s wood-chip base, decaying the structures at their very footings.
“The drainage for the whole playground wasn’t great, so all the support timbers underneath were beginning to crumble,” Slingerland says.
Even parents noticed the playground was falling apart.
“It holds a special place in my heart, and it was hard to watch it deteriorate,” says Stephanie Page, whose family has been enjoying KidsUp! since 2013. “I had peers telling me that they wouldn’t go there anymore because it was dangerous. Something had to be done to keep this special playground, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Russo and Page were among parents who stepped up to serve on a steering committee to design and help fundraise for a new playground. Working with the Park District and the Landscape Structures, Inc., playground design and equipment firm, they helped devise KidsUp! The Next Generation of Play.
The reimagined, expanded playground will include all new play features – a full complement of slides, swings, spinners, a “boulder scramble,” a winding Trike Track, and a sandy beach play area with overlooking pier. A second covered area was a special request of parents, to provide play space sheltered from both rain and sun.
The KidsUp! centerpiece will be a giant, multi-level Ferry Boat play structure, unique to the playground and integrated with the winding pathways throughout the grounds.
The playground elements will be fabricated with durable materials for a much longer projected lifespan than the original playground. All structures will be crafted of anodized aluminum for cool, kid-friendly climbs in summer, galvanized steel, and other durable materials.
The playground’s original “castle keeps” have been rebuilt and retained as a tribute to the original playground, and are integrated into the new design.
“This playground is certainly the district’s most beloved, and it’s been a centerpiece for Battle Point Park,” Slingerland says. “Families come from far and wide to play here. The community effort to build the original KidsUp! playground was nothing short of magic. We are trying pretty hard to honor that original effort and do something that lives up to its legacy.”
For now, the missing playground is a source of curiosity for kids who press their noses to the protective fencing.
Site work begins soon as the Park District installs drainage, earthwork and other ground-level preparation. Extensive grading will create earthen berms ringing the site, topped by a contiguous pathway connecting the various play areas.
Construction is expected to stretch into the summer.
THANKS TO FUNDRAISING by the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation and a recent $100,000 commitment by the Park District, the KidsUp! campaign is more than 70 percent toward its $605,000 goal. The basic playground is funded, with fundraising now going toward the Ferry Boat structure.
Families, community groups and businesses can still put their name to individual play elements through the Sponsorship Catalog. Available items range from whimsical climbing ladders ($2,000) and spinners and slides ($4,000-$6,000), to the Trike Track ($10,000) and marquee We Go Round spinner – a wheelchair-friendly merry-go-round.
The Sponsorship Catalog is at www.kidsup.fun.
“Kids are going to love the new playground,” says Lisa Sheffer, Marketing and Development Director for the Parks Foundation. “The plans these parent volunteers and Park District have come up with is super cool, almost beyond imagination. Now it’s up to the community to step up once again, to complete the funding and build a playground for the next generation of play.”
Accessibility is the new KidsUp!’s hallmark, putting it in the vanguard of inclusive playground design nationwide. Many play elements and the Ferry Boat itself will be accessible to mobility-challenged youths, while much of the playground will be soft-surfaced to allow kids to take a tumble and bounce right back up.
Russo has first-hand experience with playgrounds of both varieties, and says parents will welcome the accessible features whether or not their children need them to enjoy play.
“We’ve had friends with children who were in wheelchairs or had other physical challenges where older-style playground were essentially off limits,” she says. “Watching those beautiful children join in with other kids (at accessible playgrounds), laughing, smiling, making new friendships, and exploring a sensory rich environment, was magical.
“Those kids are often unintentionally forgotten and excluded from many experiences, so to be able to create a beautiful space that everyone can enjoy, together, is a true gift, not only to those who directly benefit from accessibility, but also those people who might find a new friend or gain an appreciation of those people whom they might otherwise miss out on interacting with in a meaningful way.”
Russo’s son Tyler is looking forward to the new KidsUp! playground, its Ferry Boat and the climbable orca whales for a simpler reason: “They’re cool.”
As KidsUp! launches the next generation of play, many more kids will surely agree.
Make a tax-deductible gift to the new KidsUp! Playground through the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation here. Families, community groups and businesses are invited to sponsor a play element – see the Sponsorship Catalog at www.kidsup.fun.