A neighborhood playground is more than steel and plastic, more than just slides and swings. It is a place for kids to explore their abilities, socialize with others, and develop skills they will utilize for the rest of their lives. A playground should be a source of pride for the surrounding community, providing them with a place to congregate and enjoy time with their families.
The United City of Yorkville, Ill., is a community of approximately 15,200 residents located 50 miles west of Chicago. It is a quaint town with a burgeoning population, strong sense of family, and a parks and recreation department dedicated to creating “unique recreational and park experiences that enrich lives and create a sense of community.” This commitment to civic excellence was evident when they undertook the renovation of Hiding Spot Park, the oldest neighborhood park in the city.
Creating A Masterpiece
Named in honor of two special local residents and sisters, Samantha and Theresa Eberhart, Hiding Spot Park is utilized by the high-density residential area that surrounds it. With high traffic and fairly limited space, city officials set out to find new equipment that would be fun and accessible while enduring the demands of heavy use and weather conditions.
The process began when Superintendent of Parks Scott Sleezer and City Park Designer Laura Haake met with a local playground representative. They discussed plans and formed a committee to deal with tasks, such as public relations, recruiting volunteers, organizing activities for the kids and getting food donations.
They also knew they wanted a playground environment that gave the kids something extra, something that would get kids excited about playing outdoors. Without a clear definition of what that was, they spoke to several companies, and finally settled on a music-themed design from GameTime. “When we saw it, we knew it was exactly what we were dreaming of,” says Haake. “It has movement, music, and things we had never seen on a playground.” The design featured GT Jams, musical instruments deigned for the playground, and was accompanied by themed musical benches as well as music notes on the structure itself. Several key “concert areas” were created–a freestanding area with benches for “concertgoers” and another area of instruments on the structure itself, which faced a “dance floor” with spinning play devices so kids could dance and move to the music.
Best of all, the area was designed with ramps so children of all abilities can join in and families can play together in the spirit of true intergenerational play. This is not a playground with a few musical components; this is truly a musical playground! “Nothing like this existed anywhere within driving distance of our community,” says Sleezer. “Once we saw the overall plan, we cold hardly wait to get it on the ground!”
A Symphony Of Support
When the committee reached out for assistance, they were met with the overwhelming support of local businesses that provided food, equipment for construction, foliage for landscaping, and building materials, such as concrete for the finishing touches around the play area. They decided a community build would be a great way to get everyone involved and allow everyone to be a part of this important project. A community build is one in which the surrounding members of the community donate their time and abilities to help erect the new playground.
The final build day arrived and with it came over 100 volunteers! The committee even enlisted the help of a local Boy Scout program called “Explorers” to watch over the exposed equipment the night before. As volunteers filed in, they were given T-shirts and divided into build teams to get started. City staff and recreation department employees were on hand to entertain the kids with games and activities while adults were busy installing their new playground.
Teams of volunteers worked diligently through rain showers, determined not to leave until the build was done. Whether it was dragging loads of wood fiber surfacing, tightening bolts, or tracking down needed tools, they were willing and able to do so with a smile. As the playground began to take shape, the kids could hardly contain their excitement as they marveled and discussed amongst each other which toy they would try out first.
In the end, the community was left with a playground unlike any in the world. Complete with musical equipment at ground level and on the decks of the structure, swings, a shelter for hot days, slides, and so much more, this playground is accessible and truly a sight to behold. Access pathways and ramps promote inclusion and minimize unnecessary complexities. The GT Jams activities offer unique opportunities for physical, social, imaginative, and cooperative play. Products are used that provide visual, tactile, and auditory feedback, and the overall playground is organized with a variety of multisensory features, such as landscaping, contrasting colors and textures. The wide ramps and large areas for gathering allow people of all ages and abilities to engage in play independently; and there are jump in places and cozy spots for children to observe from, and then engage when they feel emotionally secure. The playground promotes interaction and play between children of all abilities and is a testament to what a playground can be when designed with all children in mind.
The musical playground has been a huge success, winning the Illinois Park and Recreation Association’s “Outstanding Facility and Parks Award” for the Division II category, which recognizes exceptional and unique achievements in design and development. While awards and recognition are appreciated, the simple fact that kids and parents love their new playground is the most important thing. “It has become our most popular park in town,” Haake says. “Even neighboring towns residents’ and children’s groups have come to play and then contacted their parks department to request the “music playground” in their city!”