Feature Article - January 2008
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The Play's the Thing

Innovation and Safety Meet on the Playground

By Jessica Royer Ocken



Playground Profile:
Saint Edward State Park
in Kenmore, Wash.

In 2003, the community near 316-acre Saint Edward State Park (about 10 minutes from Seattle) raised about $600,000 and built a brand-new 5,000-square-foot playground.

"It was built in less than a week and here we are," said Park Manager Mohammad Mostafavinassab, who arrived shortly after the playground was built. "We have an amazing structure that is well-used by the community."

The park grounds were once home to a Catholic seminary, "so we have about 90,000 square feet of Romanesque buildings," Mostafavinassab said. "We wanted to mirror that in the design of the playground so it fits."

The result is a castle-like wooden structure, replete with towers, slides, bridges, stairs, rope swings and climbing walls. "There's a big-kid section with balance beams, things to hang from and a big sandbox," he explained. In the section of the playground geared toward smaller children (which is fenced off and referred to affectionately as the "baby jail"), there is a multitude of spring toys and "sound play equipment" that kids use to make noises heard throughout the park.

It's no accident that the features of this playground sound like a kid's dream. "The community group went to local grade schools and had kids design what they wanted," Mostafavinassab said. Not only did this ensure the playground would be a place they'd enjoy, it has benefited upkeep as well. "All the kids made something with their names on it—there are tiles throughout the playground—and it's nice now because four years later, the fifth-graders are in high school. They come out and volunteer in the yearly maintenance project."

Because the playground is constructed of wood, it has to be re-stained annually in a painstaking process that takes 100 people two full days. Mostafavinassab is more pleased with other features of the playground. "There are areas around the outside where we put in benches, so moms and dads can sit and watch without being in the playground," he said. "We also have gathering areas for groups of moms. Lots of moms clubs come to the playground, and they can still keep an eye on their kids.

"The baby jail is pretty cool," he continued. "You can put a kid in there and he can't get out. There's one gated entrance, so they have to go by you. [That] provides security for a lot of moms during the weekdays. They read a book or have coffee while the kids play."

It's this overall sense of safety that is among the playground's best features. Two onsite rangers patrol the park regularly, and Mostafavinassab lives onsite with his wife and two children, who are also big fans of the playground.

"The fact that we live in the park, parents know that, and that's been a key," he said. "With a city park, there's a city officer who may be in the city somewhere, but not always available. We're around."