One way that New Paltz residents measure themselves against one another is with the Hasbrouck Park playground: did you help build it? A once-in-a-generation opportunity to join that rarified group. After several years of work, plans are coming together to replace the aging community-built playground with another community-built playground in the same location. In a session billed as “design day” for the replacement, Jim Hoden of Playgrounds by Leathers revealed a proposal he pulled together as a starting point from information he’d gathered. His basic pitch was to replace the existing facility — for which Leathers was also the consultant — with a similar castle-style structure that’s been updated to comply with modern codes, building materials and play technology. Hoden was especially interested in getting feedback from his most important stakeholders, children, but he confirmed that “adults get a say, too,” in this process. In person and online, adults made sure of that.
The new playground will be paid for thanks to the recreation fee paid for by the Zero Place project. The initial proposal sticks to about the same footprint, although it’s adjusted to compensate for the growth of nearby trees, and uses the same castle motif. Instead of pressure-treated lumber — which is a source of both toxicity concerns and some pretty fierce splinters in the current playground — the new design is based on structural plastic lumber, a material made from recycled milk jugs which mimics the appearance and strength of wood without those other concerns. Other differences would make the new playground compliant with modern safety standards and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has been amended since the original playground was built around 1995.
In presenting this initial design, Hoden stressed that feedback from community members would be taken into account during the process. What he presented he called a “preliminary schematic” with which to solicit that feedback. He spoke about options to further customize the design, such as a relevant theme or having local artists paint features. for it. Parents present seemed to like the idea of including agriculture or history in some way, and New Paltz has any number of talented artists whose work might be included. The use of structural plastic lumber opens the door to new ranges of pigment, from a “riot of color” to making the new playground as brown as the current one.
Plastic was the source of some concern and conversation online. Some are relieved that pressure-treated lumber isn’t the preferred option, or just that splinters would no longer be a risk. Others have displayed a strong aversion to plastic, or had questions about recycling of these plastic boards. The material itself is made from recycled milk jugs (the exact number, which could exceed a million, could be displayed on a plaque, Hoden said) extruded with fiberglass to add tensile strength. Mayor Tim Rogers brought those concerns up with Hoden, who agreed to start by looking into whether the waste from building this new playground will be recycled. Pressure-treated lumber can’t be burned or recycled, but it’s not beyond the pale that someone could find a use for the old boards. Many pieces of the fence carry plaques acknowledging contributions to pay for the old playground, and there is a clear desire to have the opportunity to preserve those. As for what will be done with the plastic used in making this playground, once it exceeds its useful life of 50 years, won’t be known for a very long time. The “useful life” of government structures is often exceeded; the current playground should have lasted 15 years but has been largely kept intact by public works employees well beyond that time. The mayor also asked about wood. New pressure-treated wood has been reformulated, Hoden explained; it’s less toxic and also begins life a bright yellow-green which mellows over time. It also has a much shorter useful life than structural plastic lumber. However, wood quality is declining with demand, and Hoden expects many of the boards would bow unacceptably and need replacement. He didn’t immediately know what the price difference might be.
Wendy Bettez and Ian Chien, both age five-and-a-half, were not at all concerned about what was essentially a paper-versus-plastic debate. They had prepared plans of their own on loose-leaf paper, which they were pleased to share with Hoden. They included a secret passage and “the highest slide in the world.” Hoden reviewed their plans with serious intensity, and then took Chien and Bettez on a tour of his ideas. Like the old one, the new playground will have sections intended for older or younger kids, with tots the size of these two straddling that line. Hoden pointed on his drawing to features like the twisty tube slide, castle maze, balance beams, cradle neck, wobble bridge, moving rock wall, wavy monkey bars, see-saw, telephone boxes, and fire pole. He also pointed out the centrally-located sandbox and small area of covered seating.
One message parents made loud and clear is that more shade is needed, in the play areas and for waiting adults. While seating for adults needs more shade, it’s also important that parents can see their children at all times. There was also a preference that all entrances to the playground be gated to keep the littlest ones inside, but not everyone saw a benefit to a clear barrier between the two “lots” with play features aimed at five and under or five-to-12-year-olds, respectively. One parent at Village Hall said it “completely misses the point about kid movement” to separate the sections, and others agreed, adding that restricting movement between the two portions was more an inconvenience to adults. “Kids never think like that,” said another.
Dennis Young, who has spearheaded this project his entire time in office as a trustee, leaves the board on a high note as this project is being kicked off. One thing Young has pushed for all along is inclusive play features that can be used by children of all ability levels. Those are not inexpensive, and when he learned from Hodes that the Leathers proposal was going to be about $50,000 under budget he immediately started looking for more inclusive options. Low rings are in this design, but Hoden suggested a zero-barrier merry-go-round to go with the existing spinner, or a wheelchair accessible slide, “we-saw,” or low-stimulation spaces designed with respect to those in the autism spectrum.
Keeping the sandbox in a quiet corner like it is now might provide some of that last benefit. Some parents spoke about how its location now makes it ideal for quiet play, which might be preferred. Others like it being out of the way because it makes it easier to avoid if a parent decides today’s not a good day for sand play. Another idea raised was to allow for more imaginative play. The train in the Huguenot playground was held up as an example; Hoden’s suggestion of a tractor got positive reaction, especially after he added that the wheels would use real tractor tires.
From here, Hoden will refine designs, and an all-out campaign will be launched to conscript volunteers for every aspect of the process. Much of that volunteer time will be during the build itself, which is expected to take about a week. Dates for the project will be determined once the design is finalized.