Design Concepts’ Meadow Crest Playground Wins Smart Communities Award in Washington State

The $2.5 million Meadow Crest Playground in Renton, Washington, designed by Design Concepts, an award-winning community and landscape architecture firm in Lafayette, Colorado, recently won a 2014 Governor’s Smart Communities Award as a joint partnership project between the City of Renton and the Renton School District. Opened in May, the playground, which provides inclusive play opportunities for children of all abilities, is the first its kind in Renton, a city of over 96,000 located just southeast of Seattle.

The city and school district collaborated on a joint-use development project for the 1-acre playground, which replaced two outdated playgrounds, one for a school district preschool and the other for the city’s North Highlands Neighborhood Center, which sat back-to-back, separated by an eight-foot chain-link fence along the property border.

Design Concepts was hired by Tacoma-based BLRB Architects, which designed the new $19 million Meadow Crest Early Learning Center, to design and oversee construction of an accessible playground that would be used by children and staff at the learning center during school hours and by the public after hours and on weekends, holidays, and vacations. The districtwide public preschool enrolls 600 children, ages three to five, about half of whom have special needs.

The driving force behind the playground was Terry Higashiyama, administrator of the city’s Community Services, and Renton Rotary Club president at that time. In 2010, she began working toward a vision for a playground that integrated side-by-side play and was fully accessible to children of all abilities, and spearheaded a fundraising campaign that secured donations from numerous community service organizations.

Beginning in March 2012, Design Concepts led several community planning and design meetings and worked with the teachers and physical, occupational, and speech therapists at the learning center. “Everyone felt positive and passionate about the playground, but they all had different ideas,” said Carol Henry, PLA, ASLA, president of Design Concepts. “We had community meetings, and started the dialog by discussing images and examples of equipment and designs they might like.”

The firm created a master plan that was approved in June 2012. Construction of the playground began in August of 2013, just as the new learning center was opening, and was completed in May 2014.

The playground includes features such as slides, swings, spinners, and climbing rocks that encourage healthy physical development, as well as nontraditional playground activities designed for sensory development.  The playground is divided into three areas: One playground focuses on early childhood, one focuses on children ages five to 12, and one is easily used by both groups for climbing, swinging, spinning and sliding. Children of any age can play anywhere on the playground, but the design allows younger children to play independently from older children, whose play area is delineated by a low seating wall.

The early childhood areas feature equipment that helps young children develop balance and coordination. They can climb on a ladybug sculpture or spin on a ring-like Super Nova. In the painted-games area, children can hopscotch on a dragonfly or balance on a bee flying to a flower. The Rolling Hills synthetic turf mound invites children to climb and roll down, and in a climbing area, they can walk the circular walk or climb the tree to the top of a play structure and slide down the slide. Children on tricycles or in wheelchairs rolling on the Wavy Walk can stop at a stop sign and slow down in the “school zone.” They can delight in making music on oversized instruments, including chimes and drums.

Children can climb the dimensional tree motif on the climbing wall, or if they choose they can descend the wall face from a ramp above. They can also slide down from the top on one of the slides. A double side-by-side slide allows therapists to go up and down with students. This “active play” area for older children also features rocks and ropes climbing, a play structure, and side-by-side bucket swings. A large glider swing with ramp access accommodates all users, including those in wheelchairs.

The most popular feature is the 25-foot-long multi-colored caterpillar, says Todd Black, ASLA, capital project coordinator for Renton’s Parks Planning & Natural Resources department. “It’s not only a cool design, but also very functional. Kids can climb, exercise their fine and gross motor skills, and really feel their accomplishment as they climb to the nose of the caterpillar.”

Design Concepts “did a masterful job of pulling out the essence of what needed to be done at this playground, within the budget,...and helped us make the best choices,” said Doug DuCharme, AIA, BLRB’s associate principal in charge of architecture and planning for the learning center and playground.

The $2.5 million construction costs were paid for by the city, school district, and local donors, including $125,000 from the Renton Rotary Club, and the remainder from organizations and institutions including the Renton Community Foundation, the First Financial Northwest Foundation, King County, the Seattle Seahawks, the Renton Housing Authority, Renton Technical College, Lions International, Kiwanis International, and Soroptimist-Best for Women. The school district paid for the playground’s design fees. City staff is maintaining the playground, with maintenance costs split with the school district.

Design Concepts, CLA, Inc., is an award-winning community and landscape architecture firm located in Lafayette, Colorado. Founded in 1981, Design Concepts CLA, Inc. focuses on master planning and design for parks, communities, and K-12 school and university campuses throughout the United States.