Controversial vision for new Grimston Park playground

This time next year, Grimston Park could look substantially different.

The summer wading pool and winter toboggan hill will remain untouched, as will the lacrosse box and tennis courts. But the towering adventure playground with the plunging slides and the rattling drawbridge will be gone. So too the iconic tires cupping the border of the playground at the edge of the steep slope to the lacrosse box. Replacing these will be … well, we don’t know exactly what yet.

Grimston Park adventure playground today

Today was the day of the first public consultation about the park. After the brouhaha over the proposal to build a school in the park, the city’s Parks & Rec folks have wisely decided to engage in some reasonably well-publicized community outreach before messing with the West End’s biggest park. Present were Andrew Banks, the city’s parks maintenance manager, and Richard Findlay, the landscape architect hired to re-imagine Grimston’s playground.

In the photo below (click to enlarge), you can see an aerial map of the playground that shows which section is under consideration. The whole playground area is coming out (though Andrew told us the city will try to recycle materials if possible), but the rest of the park will remain largely untouched. One option that is being considered is to take over a portion of the current playground footprint for a toddler-oriented space, and claiming some of the hill below (between the playground and the lacrosse box) for a more physically challenging ‘big kid’ play area. The traditional sledding area between the ‘Welcome to New Westminster’ garden bed and Nanaimo St. will be preserved.

Grimston Park consultation diagram, showing playground footprint and relation to other park features.
Grimston Park consultation diagram, showing playground footprint and relation to other park features.

As fun as Grimston’ s current play equipment may be, it is both far too expensive to replicate (approximately two to three times the $250,000 budget) and fails to meet current playground safety standards due to the fall risk from those tall towers. So, Andrew and Richard are hoping the West End will get behind some out-of-the-box ideas for a park. Here’s the idea board they showed at the playground consultation:

Grimston Park playground ideas
Grimston Park playground ideas

Inspired by Richmond’s Garden City Park, New Westminster’s planners are exploring the idea of integrating non-traditional play structures that integrate existing landscape features, from the Stewardson-facing slope to the beloved wading pool.

Playscapes, a blog about playground design, describes some of the unique features of Garden City Park:

This is my new favorite playground…it has all the things I like to see.
A creek bed, water play, jumping stones, an outdoor theatre, natural wood and rocks to climb on, plenty of sand…and colored poles stuck in the ground for kids to play tag through are a personal favorite design feature.

And, here’s a video that illustrates the concept behind parks like Garden City:

Garden City – shaw segment – May 2008 from space2place on Vimeo.

With the caveat that at a cost of approximately $1 million, repeating Richmond’s celebrated park is out of scope, Richard and Andrew are hoping that a similar approach could bring a fresh style of play to New Westminster parks. Some of the ideas they’re kicking around include integrating an artificial creek winding down the hill that would use water drained from the wading pool in summer and possibly collected from rainfall or pumped by hand in spring and fall. Or a tightrope with handholds (think Y-shaped) to practice balance. Or climbable, slide-able sculptural pieces that could serve as both public art and play structure.

In our household, we are split on whether these ideas are the way to go. There are some good examples of free-form play equipment and sculptural parks, but there’s definitely a risk that the final structure could be too stark and simple for kids to enjoy. I am relieved to hear the new design is going to be safer and include at least some toddler-friendly equipment (the current park is geared for older kids, but our two-year-old is easily tall enough to climb up the adventure playground – and does whether or not we are there to spot him. Yet, I don’t want the park to put such a focus on “safety” that it’s no longer a fun place to play.

It seems some of our neighbours have the same concern. As I was just finishing this post, I received an email from Maryann Mortensen, who successfully led the campaign against building a school in Grimston Park. She and Trevor Frith have sent the following letter around to West End residents and City Hall (emphasis mine):

Hello all,

City Hall staffer, Andrew Banks and the playground designer Richard (last name fails me) met with the public today at Grimston Park from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. to discuss the demolition of the playground and construction of a new playground for September 2009.  The time line is tight and our input should be swift if we want our wishes and concerns to be taken into consideration.

After talking with Andrew Banks, of City Hall and Richard (designer) tonight, we have some thoughts.

On the whole we believe the City is trying to give us the best bang for our dollar with the available funds for the replacement of the playground ($230,000).  I also believe that the City is genuine in its expressed desire that we are on board with whatever is constructed in place of our beloved wooden structure and tires.

We also understand that playground equipment is ridiculously expensive and that Canadian Standards Association requirements seriously limit the creativity of playground equipment.  It should be obvious to most that Grimston’s playground requires extensive work.

The concern we have is that the current playground at Grimston Park is already a downgrade from its last version.  The playground used to have a second tier at the top of the wooden structure with twin slides traveling down the large slope, a zip line and a cool digger with a dumping truck.  In recent months, according to Mr. Banks, we lost our fireman’s pole due to vandalism (someone sawed it off).

To replace the existing playground as is, according to Richard, would cost in the order of $750,000.  The suggested September 2009 model, with the best intentions of Andrew and Richard would not come close to the uniqueness, usability and value of what we currently have, due to budget constraints.  One has to question why our playground keeps getting downgraded. We believe that Andrew and Richard brought some decent ideas forward but the costs will prevent us from attaining a playground on a similar scale to what we have come to enjoy.

Some ideas we are floating are a request to City Hall for a phased approach with additional funds made available at a specified later date.  Each year the City has a budget of $700,000 to manage all its playgrounds.  Another possibility is petitioning City Hall now for more money or making requests for donations from private industry.

We would appreciate your thoughts on this and any suggestions you might have.

Warm Regards,
MaryAnn Mortensen & Trevor Frith

What do you think? What kind of a playground do you want to see in Grimston? Would you support asking for donations from a corporate sponsor if it meant Grimston had adequate funds to replace the play equipment without downgrading?

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4 Replies to “Controversial vision for new Grimston Park playground”

  1. How about building/planting a botanical garden, ala Kew Garden in London, complete with a hedge maze, greenhouse, and a Japanese garden? I'd pay to take the Girl to visit that, helping to cover the cost, and being something of a revenue generator for the city.

  2. I too have mixed feelings about the changes to Grimston Park. I have been in the west end of New West for about 5 years so I am definitely not a long time resident. As well my kids have just recently graduated from NWSS so my main use of the park is to exercise my border collie. That being said I still love playgrounds and all that they mean for fun.

    My biggest concern with the proposed changes is something that the city can do very little about which is the changes to he playground standards and regulations. It seems to me that many (most?) of the fun elements can no longer be built or if they are built the cost to make them safe puts them out of our price range.

    My second question is what is driving the need to tear everything down? The answer I got from the designer, in retrospect, was vague. Something along the lines of being old and worn. I wonder if the existing equipment can be refurbished and/or retrofitted. I have no doubts that this was asked and discarded but I would like to know the reasons.

    Some of the new elements displayed on the board seem interesting particularly the hand pump. I would have loved that as a kid. Heck, I would play with it today. I just hope that the design is rich enough to provide a fun experience especially with the cost of everything and the limited funds.

  3. I have to agree with Maryann about the continual downgrading. I pratically grew up in that park and have wonderful memories of the zipline, huge slides and second tier. I damn near killed myself several times jumping off the swings, and to me that's what a playground's all about – not the watered down versions kids have today.

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