From plaza to castle, Roxhill Skatespot/Playground projects’ 1st round of community discussion

(Photo of Roxhill Park play structure, from Seattle Parks website)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“What’s wrong with the play structure we have now?”

The plaintive question came from a man in attendance at Wednesday night’s community meeting about the two upcoming projects at Roxhill Park – $450,000 playground renovation and $600,000 “skatespot.”

The answer from Seattle Parks staffers in a moment, but first: This was the first of three community meetings on the Roxhill projects. Project manager Kelly Davidson opened the meeting, noting both are funded by money from the 2008 voter-approved Parks and Green Spaces Levy (whose Oversight Committee chair, Pigeon Point resident Pete Spalding, was in attendance).

Davidson briefly mentioned the Rob Dyrdek Foundation donation for the skatespot that led to a “no-cost design” contract with California Skateparks. She said the skatespot and playground projects are intended to be worked on simultaneously, in hopes that’ll enable both to be handled in one construction contract. Design is to be complete next January, with construction expected to take place February through September of next year. Besides the three public meetings, there will be an additional skatespot-design review with the city Skate Park Advisory Committee (open to the public).

The skatepark (technically a “skatespot”) will be in the northwest quadrant of the park, near the corner of 29th/Barton, north of the playground, which is envisioned at its current site. Here’s a roughed-out map shown at the meeting:

Though discussion of both projects kept happening throughout the meeting, it started with playground design, led by Parks’ landscape architects Frank Robinson and Shwu-jen Hwang.

“We’re looking at what’s really cool about this park that we can turn it into something special, but we’re looking at what are the constraints, too,” Robinson said. He pointed out that the relationships between the sectors of the park will be different than it is now – with more links and pathways than exist now.

“Your preference is important,” Hwang reminded the attendees. Some general concepts with which they are working: Younger kids’ playground features on the south side, closer to the restrooms; older kids on the north side of the play area, closer to the skatespot (which might get its own separate entrance, Hwang said, per a consultant’s recommendation). The trees on the east side of the play area would likely get some new seating to reinforce its use as a picnicking or rest spot.

The wetland /bog area southeast of the play area might get a few new trees to make up for tree loss on the skatespot corner, according to Hwang.

As is typical for playground-design discussions, she reviewed a variety of types of play equipment, with an easel holding a montage of photos displaying examples. Hwang also wondered if the community might be interested in adding some adult-recreation/exercise elements in the play area.

And then came a question: “What is wrong with the play structure we have now?”

As the top photo shows, it is a distinctive structure, a two-level wooden castle, a community project from about 15 years ago. But, said Hwang, it doesn’t meet ADA requirements (disability access). And Robinson added, “All play structures have a life span of about 15 years, wood structures are a little less.” The attendee said there had been some renovation work two years ago. Robinson said that doesn’t hold off deterioration: “If time goes on and we don’t do a major renovation like this, pieces (of the equipment) will disappear gradually, and that’s kind of sad.”

The concerned attendee countered, “It’s been a historic landmark for a lot of young families – they call it Castle Park for that structure.”

Another attendee noted, “The new generation of play structures are all kind of starting to blend together.” He suggested something unique; others suggested finding a way to keep the castle theme.

Could a new structure include wood? it was asked. Possibly, Robinson said, though he said it’s been tough to find repairs/replacements for the structure that’s there now. But another issue about wood vs. other materials, he pointed out, is the fact Parks has limited funding for maintenance: “We know we have $400,000 to build this now, but we’re not sure what we’ll have to take care of it in the future.”

Regarding finding a unique component for the playground, Davidson recalled the ferry structure built into the recently renovated Fairmount Playground, at the community’s suggestion. “Maybe rocks for Roxhill,” another attendee suggested.

Donn DeVore of the Westwood Neighborhood Council asked about possible changes along Barton with the project; Robinson said, no modifications to streetlights along Barton are expected. DeVore and Mary Quackenbush, who also has been active with WNC, pointed out pedestrian improvements have been sought in the area too, including a crosswalk at 29th SW.

Next – the skatespot.

Joe Ciaglia, owner of California Skateparks, took over for that part of the meeting, including showing photos of some of the components donated by skateboard star Rob Dyrdek after his performance at KeyArena. “If these things don’t fit into the site, that’s OK too,” he said, an allusion to concerns that have been raised by the Skate Park Advisory Committee (WSB coverage here), which wasn’t consulted before the donation was accepted and announced by Mayor McGinn.

“I’m not envisioning it being one slab of concrete,” said Ciaglia, after an attendee voiced some concern about a “plaza design,” suggesting that hills need to be part of it.

Another skater in the audience said he hoped designers would “take what we don’t have and put it into the plaza,” like features that new skaters might be able to use as they learn and gain experience.

“Is a bowl out of the question?” one man asked. “I know we have bowl-mania at Delridge [Skatepark, opening in a month], but …”

Ciaglia stressed that they are looking for input.

Concerns were raised, repeatedly, about soggy soil near the skatespot site; Davidson said a soils report is due before the next community meeting.

“I’m concerned about the trees that will have to come out for (this site),” said Matthew Lee Johnston (a SPAC member), worried that the community will blame skaters. “You can build a skatepark and go home, but we’re the ones who are going to get looked down on when the trees are gone and people miss them.” He continued on to say, “We’re interested in something super-unique, built especially for this site – we don’t want to turn down something free but not in exchange for a custom-built skatepark in this location. … You could make this site unique.” Ciaglia offered assurances that could be done.

Ciaglia said he started as a landscape contractor, and “trees are really special to me,” and he saw ways to keep most of them. Davidson said she’s been out there with a city arborist and they’re looking at ways to minimize tree loss.

Back to design: Young skateboarders want the plaza style, like a popular one in Bellevue, one attendee insisted, saying that’s the only one of its kind in the region. “Think about building community around the park, rather than just having something they can use,” he exhorted.

“To have it all one way or all the other would be a mistake,” another attendee suggested.

A neighbor wondered about late-night noise; closing time would be 11 pm, but if there are issues, it could be earlier, Davidson said. And she pointed out that if SPD had to come by to clear the park post-closing time, its convenient location at 29th/Barton would enable them to shine lights while driving by. The skatepark is not scheduled for lighting, though, according to Davidson.

What about the lighting at newly renovated Delridge and Hiawatha Playfields? asked one attendee, wondering why those projects got lighting and the skatepark is not slated for any. “We’ll take that back” for discussion, promised Robinson. The aforementioned Bellevue plaza is lit until 11 pm, according to another attendee. The natural area/bog, however, might be disturbed by extra artificial lighting, Quackenbush warned.

What about redirecting money saved by the Dyrdek donations to lighting? Davidson said that sum totals currently about $28,000; low-level lighting, she said later, would cost close to that much. “Anything to keep it open past oh, 4:30 in the winter,” someone hoped aloud.

A neighbor pointed out the bathrooms are usually closed in the winter; that was duly noted.

Then came a flurry of suggestions for features. But one man said: “This is a harsh site to build a skatepark. It’s not going to be an easy site to design. I think the design should come from the site, and not try to plop Stoner Plaza on top … Go out there and walk among the trees, there’s not a lot of flat ground.”

Another suggestion: A spectator area, so “you’re not taking away a skateable area by people sitting.”

Now the suggestions – as well as comments you can get to Davidson via e-mail (contact info here) – will go into the designers’ hands. Their resulting schematic will be reviewed at the September 12th Skate Park Advisory Committee meeting, which Davidson said will likely precede the second community meeting.

9 Replies to "From plaza to castle, Roxhill Skatespot/Playground projects' 1st round of community discussion"

  • boy August 12, 2011 (10:17 am)

    This is so typical. Only money for new stuff and nothing to fix the old. Even in the parks statment they say they can build stuff but there’s no money to maintain what they build. With out money to maintain what they bbuild would they not just be building another long term eye sore. Also the handi cap rules they brought up were in place when this park was built. What gives? It seems we the people are getting set up for another major money grab. We will soon here about how all these new parks that were built [ and never maintained] need to be fixed.

  • boy August 12, 2011 (1:23 pm)

    Just a second thought. There is nothing we can do to maybe stop this. But we should aleast try to make sure that it is built to standards that will last alot longer then say five years. It seems we change standards just to rebuild stuff.

  • StringCheese August 12, 2011 (1:30 pm)

    We go to “Castle Park” especially for this play structure. There is nothing else like it around. I used to get excited when some of these new playgrounds opened with their shiny, colorful, twisty shapes — UNTIL my daughter would start to play and it became obvious that all of the colors and aesthetic details seem to be there to distract you from one basic fact:
    These “age appropriate” zones are a complete joke. My daughter and all of her peers were completely bored by the 0-5 yr. section of the playground by age 3. At 6.5, the 5-12 section is seeming pretty uninspiring too.
    In our hyper-litigious society we have suffocated our children’s natural desires to challenge themselves, to move past their fears, the pride and satisfaction that comes from finally making to the top of a high climbing structure. John Tierney has an excellent article in the NYT about this very topic:
    No, Castle Park doesn’t have multi-tiered monkey bar towers or a 15ft. slide, but it is unique in that it has “walled” passages, hidey-holes, and a glorious layout that makes it perfect for hide-and-seek and sparking imagination.
    If Roxhill really does need to be rebuilt, then why not rebuild it as is or perhaps with artificial lumber that will keep the feel of the “fort/castle”. It seems that the ADA compliance issues have more to do with lack of accessible paths to many of the sections. I don’t see why this can’t be remedied without demolishing the structure.
    I will keep an eye out for more meetings on this. Roxhill Park isn’t anywhere near my neighborhood but it is a treasure that needs protecting.

    • WSB August 12, 2011 (2:13 pm)

      String – We will definitely update as soon as the next meeting is announced. Please also do send your thoughts to project manager Kelly Davidson, as noted in the story. As easy as it is to get cynical about government process and whether people are really “heard,” we have seen evidence in more than a few parks/roads projects that input can change the course of a plan, to some degree.
      On a personal note, while we’ve known for months about the playground renovation plan – in general terms – it didn’t really hit me till the meeting the other night that this apparently means the demise of the castle structure. When our now-teenage son was preschool/grade-school age, he and I used to make a journey out of the one-mile walk to Roxhill, which really is like no other play structure in the area – we would also walk the other direction from our house, downhill to Lincoln Park, but its plastic/metal structures didn’t have anything resembling the hiding spots of that crazy “castle” – TR

  • Matt Brubeck August 12, 2011 (2:25 pm)

    Thanks for the great coverage of this meeting, Tracy. I couldn’t attend because I was out of town, so it’s great to read about it here.

    I’ll miss the castle too, and I hope it can be replaced with something equally fun rather than something that’s just brightly-colored but boring and “safe.”

  • Bus rider August 12, 2011 (3:33 pm)

    Stringcheese I totally agree. We make the trip to the castle, bypassing closer parks that fail to inspire, thrill, fascinate the kids. My toddlers were so bored with the toddler structures at the new Myrtle Res. Park and Fairmount. Pretty to look at but boring after about one minute. The wood play structure at Roxhill is always so heavily used and I love to watch all the kids using their imaginations as they run through it.

  • SpeakLoud August 12, 2011 (6:51 pm) Not a big fan of commercial structures but I do understand the needs of the City. This has the openess of the Castle design with the nature aspect many of us like. I LOVE the beehive climber-so cool and DO NOT REMOVE THE SWINGS…….

  • David Means August 14, 2011 (5:55 pm)

    Why not spend this money for lighting and security.REMEMBER Bernard Martin being beaten to death there?It is DANGEROUS at dark and SECURITY to keep the lowlifes away would be a BETTER way of spending this money.I take my 6 yr. old son there and the playground is in GOOD SHAPE.

  • Kat in HighPoint August 15, 2011 (2:30 pm)

    SpeakLoud, I went to the link you posted and see a lot the same “it looks really cool but only interesting to play on for 2 minutes”. The beehive climber is the best item there but none of those structures – not even if we put in all – would come anywhere near what currently exists.
    I do agree about the importance of keeping swings. In all of these other boring playgrounds, my daughter always ends up on the swings. Tried, true, and consistently fun for all ages (me too!).

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