Supplement Feature - April 2015
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Bringing Play to Life

Creative Play Spaces and Playground Solutions

By Joe Bush

Greg Kirstein said "an army of ants" swarmed the morning of last Sep. 8 at Westgate Park on the west side of Columbus, Ohio, and by the end of that day, the army was sweaty, tired and posing for pictures in front of the playground it had built.

Kirstein is senior vice president and general counsel of the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League, and also a board member of the Blue Jackets Foundation. The foundation's mission is to use the resources of the franchise to help improve the community, and the playground at Westgate Park was the third it helped build.

"We take foundation money that we've raised, and we find good uses for it, and creating cutting-edge playgrounds in challenged parts of the city seems like a pretty good use of the funds," Kirstein said. "The northern part of the city is the most economically stable. And so to the south and east and west, we have a few more challenges. Right now the push is to start to redevelop the west side.

"They put a new casino on the west side and they're starting to rebuild an area called Franklinton that is on the immediate west side. To pick a park on the west side seemed consistent with the city's strategy."

With a $50,000 grant from the foundation, and the assistance of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association (OPRA), and a regional playground equipment supplier, the children of the neighborhood had a hockey-themed area to play on where days before there had been a patch of ground. Blue Jackets players and office staff were among the ant army.

The space is divided into two age-appropriate areas. Posts are hockey sticks, pucks serve as foot- and handholds on climbing walls, and Blue Jackets logos and colors adorn the equipment. The playground exhibits the industry trend of themed play areas, and the method to the madness exhibits what can happen when stakeholders work as a team.

Kirstein says the third playground build went much more smoothly than the first. Lessons were learned, and he's happy to share tips on how to get a playground built in a day:

  • Above all, "…be hyperorganized, " he said. "It doesn't do you any good to have 140 volunteers if they come out and just stand around. We know in advance how many shovels, how many pitchforks, how many cement mixers, how many garbage bags. Everyone's divided into squads. Everyone's divided into shifts. The meals are timed so we keep everyone working. Some take a break, others keep working."

    There is enough suntan oil. There are children handing out water and Gatorade.

    "If we weren't hyperorganized, this would take a lot more than a day," Kirstein said.

  • Have a rain date.

  • Make sure that no matter how many volunteers show up, there is a group that has some construction background. "Just a bunch of lay people milling around doesn't do any good if no one knows how to use a drill or a level or how to dig a trench to a certain depth," Kirstein said. "Then the project just comes to a screeching halt."

Greg Harrison, chief marketing officer for the playground's manufacturer, based in Lewisburg, Pa., said the Westgate project is in line with what's happening today, and may gain popularity soon, in playground concepts.

"Sculpture play is a trend that we predict will be popular in the future," Harrison said. "We are seeing more play structures that blur the lines between art and design and playground equipment, particularly in urban areas. Other factors to consider include the conceptual vision for the new play space and determining how to maintain high levels of play value without sacrificing the overall look and feel of the structure."