Rallying ФRound The Playground

The Cranberry Uniting Playground was built to replace a wooden structure at the Cranberry Township Community Park in Pennsylvania. The original playground was brought to life through the vision of the Cranberry Women’s Club and the residents, with construction funded and carried out by the community. After more than 20 years of use, time and weather had taken a toll on the original playground. Splitting and warping wood caused safety concerns, so the decision was made. The original structure was so beloved that volunteers removed it board by board, hoping that much of the original materials could be reused in the new play space.

The construction of the playground continues a long tradition of community involvement. Residents were involved from the beginning, with fundraising activities, such as a 5K walk, drawings and design suggestions submitted by the township’s children, and volunteer construction for a portion of the play space. In fact, the majority of the volunteers who contributed to the design and construction of the new play space had a connection to the original playground.

Paying Tribute

The new play space incorporates a variety of elements while targeting the physical, social, communicative, sensory, and cognitive principles of a child’s play. The playground layout is organized as a representation of the township’s present, past, and future, engaging children in many different ways. The YESTERDAY area is a more-natural play area with farms and rolling hills with a perimeter fence constructed of reused materials from the previous wooden playground. The TODAY area includes a clock tower structure reminiscent of the township’s municipal center. The TOMORROW area is more futuristic, with wavy poles and climbers.  Lawn areas for free play are dotted with decorative stepping stones donated as part of the fundraising effort.

The Elements

The new play space combines play and education with accessibility in exciting ways. A variety of ground surfaces, including wood, brick, exposed aggregate, stepping stones, rubber play surface, turf play surface, and boulders set into the edges of walks, create visual and textural interest. The curved concrete borders surrounding the play surface are imprinted with handprints and leaf prints, acknowledging the people and trees in the park. An accessible ball-rolling trough borders a curved path so children can explore the concepts of gravity and physics.

While exploring the tree and vine climbers in the YESTERDAY area, children interact with the play elements by triggering sound buttons that play native-bird songs. Band instruments can be “played” in the TOMORROW play space, while a clock chime on a motion sensor sounds when children approach the TODAY clock tower. Bongo drums further incorporate music into the design. Children of all abilities can perform on the stage, which produces a tapping sound from the raised wood tiles. 

The new space also embraces the adjacent stream. Openings were left in the perimeter landscaping to allow stream access, giving children the opportunity for further exploration and play.

Lessons Learned

The popularity of the new play space created an unintended maintenance issue, with the township having to remove newly planted boxwood and dogwood shrubs beyond the perimeter area after children trampled them while playing. Future remediation steps may include incorporating additional trees, adding a stream-side pathway, and enhancing bank stabilization.

The township reported one other positive ”lesson learned”: Don’t underestimate the number of enthusiastic community volunteers who are willing to help! The contractors embraced the installation challenges of the design, with its curvilinear paths, and the volunteers participated with enthusiasm and true dedication. 

Nancy Lonnett Roman, RLA, LEED AP, is the Vice President of Site Design and Development for Pashek Associates, Ltd. In Pittsburgh, Penn. Reach her at (412) 321-6362, ext. 114, or nlonnett@pashekassociates.com.