Ample And Acessible
By Jerry Pask and Colleen McCarty
As the oldest park in the Elmhurst Park District’s holdings, WilderPark was in need of a makeover. Located in the heart of Elmhurst, Ill., the park is bordered by the Elmhurst Public Library, ElmhurstArt Museum, Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Arts, WilderMansion, and several elementary schools. Originally constructed in 1995, the park playground became part of a larger 2011 rejuvenation project partially funded through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Open Space Land Acquisition and Development grant. Since it is such a heavily utilized space by residents and students from the adjacent facilities, the goal of the design was to accommodate as many playing children as possible. The result was a groundbreaking 8,000-plus-square-foot custom playground that children couldn’t wait to explore.
Prepare To Launch
The park district replaces a different playground every year. With 18 playgrounds in the system, the current schedule ensures that a playground is updated approximately every 20 years with new ADA- and safety regulations. The design process includes two public meetings where residents give their input, and two board meetings where the concepts are reviewed and then voted on for final approval. PowerPoint presentations of plan views, 3-D perspectives, and virtual-reality walkthroughs of the different concepts give a clear vision of what the playground will look like when complete. Prior to the new playground installation, the non-profit organization Kids Around the World removed the existing playground and refurbished the structures before transporting them to an orphanage in Thailand that did not have a playground, effectively recycling the playground. This partnership not only helps less-fortunate children in other countries but also saves the park district money on demolition costs as Kids Around the World takes down the equipment.
The playground’s main structure is the focal point of the design. The interior features a 12-foot-high pyramid net climber with four net bridges connecting the main pyramid climber to the exterior equipment. This equipment—made of traditional ramps and decks—forms a square around the net climber and includes numerous play activities, climbers, boulders, slides, spinners, tunnels, and shade sails. The playground portion of the project cost approximately $400,000.
The preschool area features a more classic layout with a main structure, ground components, and a sandbox. This structure includes a club house, bridges, tunnel, climber, curved slide, double slide, and spiral slide. The “idea structure” is ground-accessible, integrated into the sandbox, and includes several interactive panels. Freestanding spring toys serve as ground components. The preschool main structure was incorporated into the sandbox to help save on surfacing costs and increase the fun!
Working Out The Kinks
Sandboxes present an ongoing challenge for the park district, since they are always one of the most popular play features but messy and difficult to maintain. To alleviate the amount of sand traveling from the sandbox, an 18-inch-high stone sitting wall was constructed to help contain the sand, as well as provide more seating opportunities. However, this did not work as well as anticipated because the wall could only be built on one side due to the fall zones of the preschool main structure. The drinking fountain—equipped with pet bowl—was placed on the opposite side of the playground from the sandbox so kids won’t clog the fountain with sand.
The swings present another challenge for the park district. Residents typically want more swings, which take up additional space and increase the amount of safety surfacing required, as well as an added expense. The arch swings are connected together into one large unit, including two bays of 6- to 12-year-old swings, two bays of preschool swings (with one accessible bucket seat), and one tire swing at the center, which is a huge space saver as it can accommodate more than one child at a time. By customizing all of the swings, the park district decreases the amount of space the swings require.
In the center of the playground, a sitting plaza provides both a space for adults to observe the children, as well as a means of separating the age groups on the playground equipment. The ADA-accommodating site amenities include two recycled plastic game tables, two recycled plastic picnic tables, a custom circle bench, and two trees with tree grates. There are also several recycled plastic benches located along the edges of the playground to ensure ample seating for adults, and bike racks at the entrance to encourage a more active lifestyle. Short-living, fast-growing trees like Quaking Aspen and Cotton-less Cottonwood were planted within the playground for fast, natural shade, allowing the district to save money by not needing to use built structures, such as gazebos or shade sails. In a breeze, the movement of the leaves adds an audio effect to the play area. Also, the trees will have reached the limits of their lifespan when the playground is replaced in 20 years so the trees can be recycled into mulch for the new planting beds, adding to the site’s sustainability.
Although poured-in-placed rubberized safety surfacing is more expensive to install, the maintenance of wood mulch far exceeds the labor cost savings to provide ADA accessibility. A light color mix of green, tan, and terra cotta helps decrease the heat-island effect, and ensures the surfacing doesn’t become too hot and burn playground users’ bare feet. Parents also love the surfacing because their children do not come home “dirty.” In areas where the poured-in-place doesn’t back up to a concrete border, the edges are sloped at a 45-degree angle under the sod to hold it in place (with the gravel base too).
In high-traffic areas such as the end of slides and under the swings where poured-in-place tends to deteriorate, safety tiles were used to improve ease of maintenance. The worn tiles can be easily popped out and replaced. The safety tiles were installed on concrete pads instead of a gravel base to allow for increased stability and decreased shifting and warping.
The success of a project is based on how much it is used. Not only are Elmhurst residents pleased, but people from neighboring communities travel to experience the new playground as well. Regardless of the weather, the WilderPark playground is a “kid magnet,” and someone is always there enjoying its ample and accessible amenities.
Jerry Pask , ASLA, RLA, CPRP, CPSI, is the Landscape Architect/Park Planner for the Elmhurst Park District. Reach him at (630) 993-8939 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Colleen McCarty , ASLA, is the Assistant Park Planner for the Elmhurst Park District. Reach her at (630) 993-4729 or email@example.com .
About the Kids Around the World
Kids Around the World, Inc. (KIDS) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping children and families who have been affected by war, poverty, illness, and natural disasters. The home office is in Rockford, Ill.
According to the organization’s website:
“If you are aware of a playground that is being replaced, removed, or just demolished, please let us know. We may be able to use it. We are a fully insured organization. We can offer you proof of insurance, plus a liability waiver that protects you from claims during the onsite removal. This extends to future claims after the equipment has been recycled. We guarantee these playgrounds will not be installed in the United States. Once we have reinstalled the equipment, we will send you a picture of the children enjoying your gift of play!
Contact us with any questions or call us at (815) 229-8731. Remember, if we think we can use the playground, we will send a team to remove it at no cost.”