Corridor to get new playgrounds soon

February 19, 2010
By

David Taber


Image Courtesy O’brien and Sons
This large bridge-like structurewas preffered by neighbors of the Southwest Corridor playground at Lamartine and Boylstone streets.

JP Kids

SOUTHWEST CORRIDOR—A group of about a dozen community members, most of them parents, met with Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) officials Feb. 9 to pick new playground equipment for three play areas on the Southwest Corridor Park.

DCR officials said they were looking for quick decisions. They hoped, they said, to get new equipment ordered for play areas at Boylston and Lamartine streets, Boylston and Amory streets and Everett and Williams streets by the end of last week.

The plan is to have the new playgrounds installed by mid-May, hopefully in time for the annual Wake Up The Earth festival, said Samantha Overton Bussel, DCR deputy director of urban parks and a Jamaica Plain resident.

They got the go-ahead for two of the three sites, with residents saying they want to see a more substantive investment at the small Boylston and Amory lot. DCR’s proposal for that small lot was a $3,200 swing set.

Overton Bussel said it should not be a problem to find more resources for the site. She is planning a major initiative to “shine the [parks] shoes” including new planting and pruning and other clean-up efforts to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the corridor’s official opening. She will make sure the Amory and Boylston lot is on that list, she said.

That initiative could also include signs providing directions from one playground to another, Overton Bussel said. She also said she will likely try to set up a community scavenger hunt or other youth activities geared toward showing off the new playgrounds on the corridor when renovations are completed.

At Lamartine and Boylston, they picked a large bridge-like structure with various slides and ladder structures. The design—intended for 5- to 12-year-olds, will also feature a separate “spider-climber,” a free-standing web-like climbing structure; a low balance beam; a “play panel”—essentially a small, colorful section of wall; and a shade hut. It will cost about $77,000.

At Everett and Williams streets, the group toyed with the idea of approving a newer “fit and fun”-style structure—an abstract-looking group of curvilinear climbing structures.

Fit and fun structures are the cutting edge of playground design, said DCR staffer Matthew Furlow. The idea behind the abstract structures is “kids can interpret them in different ways,” he said.

In the end though, community members went for a more traditional 8-foot enclosed tower with slides. That design has the advantage of offering youths a bird’s-eye perspective on Orange Line trains passing through the corridor. Towers at Franklin Park Zoo and the Children’s Museum are very popular, parents said.

One youth who attended the meeting with his father initially said he liked the “fit and fun” design, but later changed his mind.

The large structure at Everett and Williams is intended for 5- to 12-year-olds. Smaller structures for 2- to 5-year-olds will also be installed there. A tire swing is planned for that playground as well—a feature many parents were enthusiastic about.

Referring to an old tire swing that used to be at the same site, JP resident Marc Pelletier said the tire swing “was awesome. My kids loved it.”

The Everett and Williams structures will cost about $133,000, DCR officials said.

Thurlow said the different age-oriented designs are based on the “anthropometrics” of bodies at different ages. Things like different levels of upper body strength and different centers of gravity are taken into account in the play structure designs, he said.

A playground for 5- to 12-year-olds was recently completed on the Minton Street section of the park, he said.

DCR officials originally proposed to install a traditional swing set at Amory and Boylston. The advantages of that proposal are that the lot there is extremely small, so it is hard to fit a very large structure because of safety standards, and that swing sets, once an all-but-ubiquitous playground feature, are becoming scarce.

“Boston Public Schools does not want to do swings because they are a liability,” Thurlow said.

But Pelletier and others said they are concerned that the about $3,200 price tag for the swings project would mean the Amory Street side of the park is getting short-changed.

“It’s definitely the other side of the tracks,” Pelletier said.

Another parent said he is in regular contact with other community members who are enthusiastic about renovations to that playground.

The section of the corridor in question, a recessed area where views are blocked by shrubs, is known as a high-crime area.

While DCR officials said they are unlikely to have the funds to alter the footprints of the playgrounds they are renovating, they said they would take another look at squeezing more into the tight space.

“The issue is not money. It is space,” Thurlow said.

Building standards have changed significantly since the corridor’s original playgrounds were first built in 1990, Thurlow said. The new playgrounds will be built with at least a 6-foot “safety zone” radius around the climbing structures. The structures will be set in a “poured rubber” ground coating instead of the formerly popular sand base, Thurlow said. That surface meets federal Americans With Disabilities Act requirements and is easier to shovel snow from, meaning kids could have better access to the playgrounds in winter.