By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A play-area renovation in West Seattle may ultimately be even more inclusive than envisioned, thanks to advocacy by four local teenagers, based on work they did in their final year at Explorer West Middle School (WSB sponsor).
We told you about their “Change the World Project” work seven months ago. Their main goal was to raise awareness about West Seattle’s lack of an “inclusive” playground – one with features that can be enjoyed by children of all ability levels, including those with physical and/or developmental challenges. There’s only one such play area in the entire city (the Children’s PlayGarden).
With the four – Makenzie White, Cyrus Storlie, Tess Wassermann, and Ellen Applewhite – leaving Explorer West just after completing the project as part of their work with teacher Tim Owens, they weren’t sure about its fate, nor about what additional work they could do. When summer was over, the four former classmates were enrolled in four different high schools, further complicating any plans to collaborate.
Parks has $600,000 from the new Park District Levy to spend on overhauling the playground, which is near the wading pool in the park’s forested upper area, not far from the central parking lot off Fauntleroy Way. Some of the equipment there was installed in 1994, according to this report on damage from the 2006 windstorm.
Goals of the revamp already included improved accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. So the students’ advocacy fits right in. We sat in on a meeting last week with Parks project reps and three of the former EWMS students (Makenzie, Cyrus, and Tess) in a classroom at EWMS.
It wasn’t the first time they’d talked to the project team; they showed up at the public open house last month to make their pitch, talking briefly with Parks’ project manager Karimah Edwards and designer Frank Robinson, both of whom came to Explorer West for the meeting last Wednesday. Makenzie had contacted Parks after hearing that a comment period was open for the play-area renovation, and Edwards replied, inviting them to the open house, at which “idea boards” created by Robinson were shown.
As Wednesday’s conversation began, Makenzie told the Parks staffers that the students “wanted to see what would incorporate universal design – even one play feature would be good.” She mentioned a local company called Landscape Structures; Robinson said he’s already in close contact with LS, one of two companies he already had contacted for preliminary cost estimates, as preliminary design work proceeded. When he talked to the companies, Robinson said, “I mentioned accessibility and trying to reach people of all abilities, as well as people on the autism spectrum.” Both companies (the other is Burke) are doing significant work in that area, he told the students, asking for their thoughts on what they’re looking for and what they had found.
Cyrus said, “It’s also the environment the play structures are in, as well as the structures themselves – things that spin, for example, are not good.” Makenzie added that while specific attributes like that aren’t desirable, it’s important for the structures to enhance community, so kids can “get out and be social.”
They discussed the merits of that aspect of play equipment versus another attribute incorporated for autism inclusivity, having someplace to go for personal space.
Ultimately, Robinson brought up one specific piece of equipment he had been considering, the “Oodle swing.” And he mentioned that Parks would be asking the community at large for another round of feedback before finalizing the plan for the play-area overhaul. Another meeting is planned sometime in January – no date yet – which will include presentations from both companies with which Parks has been speaking.
The collaborative spirit, in the meantime, ran high between the Parks staffers and the students – envisioning the overhaul would include “some play elements that would meet the needs of kids with disabilities and be a thrill for the other kids too.” Robinson envisioned a design welcoming “kids of all different development levels,” adding, “You guys can be our experts. … We’re off to a pretty good start on this project,” which is one of more than two dozen the department is tackling in the coming year.
Part of the inspiration for the project relates to Makenzie’s mom, who works at a clinic. She sat in on Wednesday’s meeting – but just as an observer, as was teacher Owens – the students did all the talking with the Parks reps.
We’ll continue to track the project, and their involvement, for followups, especially when the date for the next community discussion is set. Meanwhile, if you have comments about any aspect of the Lincoln Park North Play Area project, you can contact project manager Edwards, firstname.lastname@example.org.