March 25, 2010 in Washington Voices

Sensory playground

Park offers educational play for all ages, abilities
By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. BART RAYNIAK photo

Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation director Mike Stone, taking a tour of Discovery Playground recently, said the park is designed to offer something for everyone.
(Full-size photo)

At a glance

The purpose of the park is to provide an educational play place for people of all ages and ability levels.

… The park is a feast for the eyes as well as all the other senses. Using the theme “Exploring Eastern Washington,” colorful metal flowers and bugs vie for attention with the brown bear slumbering in his den and the colorful fish just begging to be climbed on.

A park nearly a decade in the making is finally nearing a reality as Spokane Valley’s new Discovery Playground approaches completion. The playground is scheduled for a grand opening May 13, and only a few weather-dependent construction details remain.

The general contractor, Ginno Construction of Coeur d’Alene, had announced that it planned to be finished by Christmas, well ahead of the city’s construction estimate.

“They came very close,” said Mike Stone, the city’s parks and recreation director. The playground was envisioned before the city incorporated in 2003 and the city took over planning. The project got off the ground with an $800,000 grant from Washington state and ground was broken last summer.

The purpose of the park is to provide an educational play place for people of all ages and ability levels. It was originally planned for a narrow strip of land by the Mirabeau Park waterfall, but the city instead built it on an empty plot of land east of the Valley YMCA and south of the CenterPlace event facility at 2426 N. Discovery Place. The new placement allows park visitors to use the existing CenterPlace parking lot, though a few handicapped parking slots were added by the entrance of the park.

The project was estimated to cost $1.2 million, but the lowest bid came in at $1.5 million, Stone said. That’s partly because of the unusual nature of the playground, planned to be so much more than the average neighborhood park.

“It’s a pretty unique project,” Stone said.

The park is a feast for the eyes as well as all the other senses. Using the theme “Exploring Eastern Washington,” colorful metal flowers and bugs vie for attention with the brown bear slumbering in his den and the colorful fish just begging to be climbed on. Kids can take a whack at oversized wind chimes, pound on drums or talk with a playmate through sound tubes. “Sound is one of the key components,” said Stone.

There are a lot of large rocks and benches for sitting, an elevated sand table where children can dig for fossils and a splash pad for some cool relief on a hot summer day. A tier of concrete seats await a teacher and students in an outdoor classroom. Covered picnic tables are available for families settling in for an outdoor lunch. The fake rock climbing wall looks and feels so much like native basalt rock that most will be fooled.

There are the traditional slides and swings, with some of the swings built for the disabled. A series of rolling hills next to a sidewalk emulates the geography of the Palouse and provides a place for people to run and roll in the grass.

“Hopefully we have a little bit of something for everybody,” Stone said.

If the early buzz is any indication, the park will be popular. People who drive by it on Mirabeau Parkway often call to get more information about the project. “We’ve already had a tremendous amount of interest from school groups and day cares,” Stone said.

“It’s one of a kind. I think it will be a destination venue for our city.”

The park has two bathrooms and is surrounded by a 4-foot fence. Lighting has been installed. The park is highly visible because of its location on a well-traveled street, Stone said. The only thing that worries Stone is how attractive the concrete benches, steps and seats will be to skateboarders, who will not be allowed in the park. More security can be added at a later date if it is needed, he said.

“We’re going to be doing a great deal of monitoring and watching,” Stone said.

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