Story and photos by Jason Grotelueschen
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Neighbors gathered on Thursday night to hear from the design team working on the Fairmount Playground‘s south play area renovation project, and to provide input on new play equipment that will be part of the construction happening this summer.
As we reported in mid-May, Seattle Parks opened an online survey to collect feedback – take it here – that the team will keep open until Sunday June 9th. Read more about the project here (the renovation is specifically for the Fairmount south play area, situated closest to the school and constructed in the late 1990s. The Fairmount north play area was renovated in 2010 and included the distinctive “Washington State Ferry” play structure.)
If you use the rest of the park but not the play area, some of Thursday night’s discussion might be of interest. But first:
The primary speaker on Thursday night was Pamela Alspaugh (pictured below), senior landscape architect with the parks department, joined by project planner Colin Campbell and project manager Shannon Glass. Alspaugh talked through two design options they’re working on with playground equipment company GameTime, but said that the final plan will likely be a hybrid approach containing the best components of both plans based on feedback from the community and the project team, and that she will be able to share that plan “in 2-3 weeks.”
Here are the two options presented on Thursday night
Alspaugh explained that the emphasis of the $400,000 project (funded by Seattle Parks) is to replace the play equipment in the south area, to bring it up-to-date and make ADA accessibility compliance improvements. The plan is to finalize the ordering of the play equipment soon, close the existing play area for construction shortly after school is out for summer, and be finished with the renovation before classes resume in the fall.
Because of its proximity to the school, the south area is considered to be “the school’s play area,” Alspaugh said, so the renovation is a “relatively simple equipment-replacement project” focused on the play area. When construction begins, crews will come out and remove wood chips and the existing play equipment, work on drainage problems (which were identified as a major issue based on feedback from the public and student groups), then install the new playground equipment when it’s delivered.
The team also wants to look into doing other improvements to the park, including new paving for the pathways which may happen next year, and replacing the “very dated” irrigation and sprinkler system on the ballfields. But the focus for this summer is the south play area, which has come to the end of the typical 20-year life cycle that Seattle Parks uses as a guideline. The north play area was updated 9 years ago, and the restroom between the areas was replaced in 2015.
Alspaugh said that in addition to the drainage issues, other themes collected from community feedback thus far include:
- Safety concerns between kids and aggressive dogs (per city ordinance, dogs aren’t allowed on any of the playfield areas).
- Prioritization of this project compared to other area parks like Hiawatha (the renovation planning for the Hiawatha playground is coming soon, the team said, with design happening in the next few months and construction starting next year, but the Hiawatha play area is actually the same age as the south Fairmount area and will be a more complex project because of Hiawatha’s landmark/Olmsted status).
- Increasing the size of the park (it’s already very big at 3800 square feet, Alspaugh said, but there isn’t a lot of “play value” with the current equipment and that’s one of the primary targets for this summer’s renovation).
More raw notes from Q&A during the meeting:
- Dead trees, and lack of shade: Alspaugh said that urban foresters are aware of issues with some of the trees and are working on it. Many trees along Fauntleroy were removed in past years (they were diseased and some were destroying the sidewalks, according to attendees) and there is a general issue with not enough shady spots in the park. This will be something to work on, including new trees as well as artificial shade (and rain cover) built into certain parts of the new play structures. One attendee notes that some kids particularly don’t like the rain but can still use the play structure under the covered areas.
- Picnic tables and seating: More seating is needed in the area in general, and around the play areas. Parents with small children often have no place to sit. The current benches between the play area and basketball court provide a visual/physical barrier that keep basketballs from leaving the court, and prevent tripping hazards to some extent, and attendees agreed that more benches could serve that dual purpose. There is also a desire to have some picnic tables, which Alspaugh said they’ll look at. One attendee asked about simpler “log seating” like those in some parks, but Alspaugh said the parks department generally isn’t able to get those anymore.
- Safety surfacing: The plan for the south area is to have engineered wood fiber as the surface. Other options include playground grass and rubber, but Alspaugh said those would be considerably more expensive and would greatly cut into the budget for new playground equipment, and have much less “fall attenuation” (for safety) than the EWF option.
- Drainage: An attended noted that the storm drain on eastern side doesn’t work, the grade is too high, and she and her school class has a video of stormwater running off the ballfield all the way to the field. Alspaugh acknowledged that it’s a problem and they’ll work on it.
- Could a new walking path on the street along Fauntleroy be added? Alspaugh said the team has looked at it but there isn’t room on the north because of the ballfield and the grade of the land, but they’ll look at it again, if not with this project then maybe as part of another project or volunteer project.
- What options are there for dog owners? Alspaugh and attendees noted that dogs are allowed on the paths and can walk around the park, but by Seattle municipal code you can’t have dogs in the play areas or ballfields (signage is already posted). Attendees noted that these rules are rarely enforced and that dogs are in those areas all the time, which Alspaugh acknowledged and encouraged residents to call the police if they see infractions and they’ll dispatch the appropriate dog enforcement teams, but the parks department doesn’t do enforcement of dogs and their staff isn’t trained for that. Leashing doesn’t matter, per code not even dogs on leashes are allowed on the fields, and that’s for every Seattle park (not just Fairmount). What about a fenced off-leash area in a corner/edge of Fairmount Park? Alspaugh and the team said they could look at that, but the available space may be too small and it can’t be too close to any of the play areas, and there is a long-standing resolution that establishes rules about off-leash areas not allowed to be adjacent to residential property.
- The play equipment company being used (GameTime) has already been through the bidding process and does an excellent job and “one of the two best play equipment companies out there,” Alspaugh said, and by working with them (rather than involving multiple companies) they can move quickly and get the plan designed and the equipment ordered soon and installed this summer. Alspaugh reiterated that although there are two design options, she “doesn’t completely like either plan in total,” but likes pieces of both plans and the eventual plan that will be prepared in a few weeks will have aspects of both, based on community feedback. At least one attendee noted that the general layout of option 2 seemed more playable.
- What about the colors for the play equipment? One plan has bright tones like orange, the other has darker colors like dark blue. Need to be wary of dark colors getting hot in the sunshine. One attendee suggested blue and green, which are Fairmount’s school colors, and others cited Lincoln Park as an example of play equipment having “natural Pacific Northwest colors” that complement the surroundings.
- Park size: With the north and south areas combined, there are 9,000 square feet of space, which is much larger than the typical average of 6500 square feet for comparable parks near schools, Alspaugh said.
- Play equipment selections: Alspaugh took feedback from attendees (mostly kids) about certain aspects of the project plans. Older kids need to climb and need the platforms to be higher, several attendees said, and one of the options has “climbable plastic trees” and poles that could work well. Other components include decks and bridges, a triple slide, overhead ladders and monkey bars, a net tower, and a spinning feature. One student in attendance said that the current park’s bars to hang from are very popular and are just the right height, and the new park should have those. One attendee noted that the balance beam in the current play area is very simple but gets a lot of use.
- ADA: Having wheelchair-accessible ramps (with the proper rise/run ratio) is a crucial part of the project. Some concerns were raised about things like curbs in the area, which need to be properly painted and easily visible.
- Paved paths: They need to be improved in the near future. On the school side, the grade can’t be changed because of the property line. Alspaugh said they want to have paved paths that go to different areas of the park, and a bicycle rack next year.
- Other park projects: The team is also working on Lincoln Park (which is “very far behind” but we’re getting there, Alspaugh said) and Hiawatha (planning has started, design in the next few months, construction starting next year). Alspaugh said the overall improvements should be notably better, with features at Lincoln Park like a new zipline.
- Art: One attendee noted that she had seen a park in Washington DC in which area kids drew a picture and the playground company printed it and incorporated it into the park design.
- How is the budget determined? Alspaugh said she manages it, they have about 150 areas to manage and try to keep them updated based on their guidelines (20 years for play structures like the Fairmount south area). She said the team looks at what the park has now, what’s needed for ADA compliance, whether there are other nearby play areas, etc. She added that the Fairmount project is mostly an “equipment replacement project,” with not a lot of extra amenities, thus very little of the budget needs to go toward public process in instances where a whole new park is being designed.
- What about “universal design” playground principles, used in some areas? Alspaugh said that Seattle parks doesn’t currently adhere to those, but their superintendent is in support of pursuing that, and we’ll likely see an emphasis on that in the future.
After answering questions, Alspaugh gave the kids in attendance first dibs to come up and tell the project team which parts of the plans they liked and disliked:
The team also collected filled-out handouts with community comments, and took notes collected during the meeting (team members Glass and Campbell are on the right):