Play areas and park facilities undergo summer makeover

Steve Cox Memorial Park new play areaJust in time for summer, several parks around King County are freshening up their facilities, playgrounds and sports areas. One park involved in this play area rehabilitation is Five Mile Lake Park out near Federal Way and Auburn, in an unincorporated part of the County.

“You think of a traditional playground, but there’s nothing traditional about this one,” said Doug Miller, a Park Specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP) who has been with King County since 1989. “I don’t think the majority of people know what it means to get a new playground.”

With a unique play structure and foam, mat-like, tiles on the ground instead of woodchips, the playground is definitely non-traditional. There are items to climb and balance on, but then there are other parts of the playground that seem unfamiliar. The ambiguity around these structures is intentional though.

“This is part of a larger trend in playgrounds over the last five to 10 years to move to equipment with less obvious uses for kids to experiment with,” said Lindsey Miller, Capital Project Manager for the Playground Rehabilitation Project. Lindsey has been with King County for 10 years, and came to DNRP two years ago.

“It may look mysterious but it generates creativity, promotes imagination and builds strength. People still appreciate slides and swings but with this new equipment, the kids can make up what they want to do with it.”

Funded by the 2014-2019 King County Parks, Trails and Open Space Replacement Levy, the project plans to replace equipment at several playgrounds over the next few years. From 2015 to 2016, it will replace six total, and from 2017 to 2018 will impact seven more. Each playground may take between eight to 12 weeks to complete, depending on the weather, scheduling, and scale of rehabilitation.

“The whole reason this playground program is possible is because of the levy funding,” Lindsey said. “It’s a good, tangible deliverable of what people are getting from the levy.”

Along with creative play ideas, people are also getting certified, safe and long-lasting equipment that meets current quality standards. Lindsey and her team coordinate the project to confirm materials and budgets are on course, all while ensuring the new equipment meets the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) guidelines, as outlined in the Public Playground Safety Handbook.

To ensure these standards are met, Playground Specialist Rick Powelson leads a team that tests the equipment and the rubber tiles. Using what’s called a Triax2010 Impact Tester, they check that the tiles meet impact standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), which has multiple sections for the materials used for playgrounds.

Once the playground equipment is finished, DNRP staff in the field, like Doug Miller, oversee the day-to-day maintenance, as well as the overall upkeep of their specific park. In his case, Five Mile Lake Park and the other areas in the Five Mile District.

“We reused woodchips from the old playgrounds to spruce up the plant and tree areas,” he said, referencing how the rubber matting replaced the woodchips. “We try to use as much as we can so nothing goes to waste.”

“The South County Ballfields, Cottage Lake, and now Five Mile Lake are done, and it’s been really amazing to see and feel taxpayer dollars at work.”

Lindsey agrees that it’s doubly satisfying to know people appreciate the efforts to provide fun, safe play areas for their children.

“It’s exciting to know these playgrounds generate new interest,” she said. “We’re motivating people to get out and see something new, and promoting healthy communities.”

For more information about the Play Area Rehabilitation Capital Improvement project, visit the project page on the King County website.