Designing the Future, Preserving the Past
Crystal Beach Park in Woodward, Okla.
By John McConkey
Today, those same springs feed Crystal Lake, which is the centerpiece of Woodward's stunning revitalization of Crystal Beach Park. Like many smaller towns in the Great Plains region, Woodward has undergone many changes as big cities drew people, resources and jobs from rural economies. In 2005, Woodward decided to take charge of its destiny and transform Crystal Beach Park into a recreation destination for families throughout the region.
According to Jim Hasenbeck, founder of the Oklahoma City-based firm Studio Architecture, which handled design for the project, the goals of the transformation went far beyond those of a typical city park. "The two main goals for the renovation of Crystal Beach Park were to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Woodward and to create a recreation environment that would spur economic development in the city," he said. "For a town of just 13,000, Woodward has a lot riding on the success of the project, which ultimately will require an investment of $25 million."
The city was not without resources in initiating this project. In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built several facilities in the park that are still prominent features: a swimming pavilion, band shell, amphitheater, arching entry gates and a large outdoor sports arena, which at one time hosted one of the largest rodeos in the Western United States. According to Hasenbeck, who grew up in Woodward before moving to Oklahoma City, the challenge was to keep features that honored the past, while adding new facilities that would make Woodward stand out.
"There were architectural elements that we knew were important to the people who grew up in Woodward, and they give the park a unique character that we wanted to maintain," Hasenbeck said, "At the same time, we wanted to add features that were very forward-looking and would reflect the vision of the city itself."
Alan Riffel, city manager for the past five years, acknowledged another goal that was important to all city personnel as the design phase unfolded: create a variety of play areas that would be accessible to children of all abilities. "To truly make this park a community gathering place, we knew that we had to make it accessible, where entire families could congregate and play together," he explained. "It all had to start with the playsystem itself."
Hasenbeck's design for the park included four quadrants: baseball and softball facilities, golf, equestrian, and the playground and aquatic quadrant. For the first phase of the renovation, Hasenbeck and Riffel focused on making the playgrounds second to none. They chose the new Evos playsystem as their centerpiece, tapping Susan Garst, a project manager with Arkoma Playgrounds, to assist with the design of the play areas.
"Jim Hasenbeck was clear at the outset that he was looking for playground equipment that was innovative, yet classic—something that could withstand the test of time and still get kids excited," Garst said. "The moment we showed him the video of kids playing on Evos, he knew that it would be the centerpiece of the primary play area. We then spent several weeks designing that system, as well as the play equipment on the other four play areas. Our goal was to have something for children of all ages and abilities."
"We looked at a lot of different playsystems, but Evos stood out in several areas," Riffel said. "First was its overall design with the arches and open style. We thought it was very futuristic, but it would fit well with the beautiful traditional setting we have in the play area. Secondly, we thought it would appeal to kids of all ages and allow entire families to play together. And lastly, we liked the fact that everything in Evos begins at the ground level, so children of all abilities could be together. We chose to use rubber mat safety surfacing in all the play areas to make access as easy as possible."
This latter feature was particularly appealing to Hasenbeck. "As an architect, I loved the almost sculptural aesthetic of the Evos playsystem, and I don't think we could have found anything that says 'looking forward' more than Evos," he said. "But what really appealed to me was that … any child with accessibility issues could interact on the same plane as all the other kids and be right in the middle of play."