The popular Lake Nokomis children’s playground near the Nokomis Community Center is scheduled for more than just an upgrade this spring. Newly designed play equipment will be added, along with an expanded pop-up nature-inspired play area. Some of the more popular pieces, such as the metal slides, will be upgraded. Work begins when the weather warms.
Plans for the changes began almost a year ago with outreach efforts to local neighborhoods. “We started reaching out to the community to see what people wanted here,” said Beth Pfeifer, design project manager with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
Beginning last year, the Park Board began looking to residents of local neighborhoods, focusing on Nokomis and Hiawatha, asking what people liked and what they needed in the popular playground. “We did surveys at festivals like the Monarch Festival, went to PTA meetings and preschools and asked what people wanted to see. We had open houses and did online surveys. About 50 people responded online and another 200 gave input in person.”
The original park was designed and installed in 1935. Since then, the playground area has seen many changes and was modernized several times. This time, playground designer Chris DesRoches, working with his company, Landscape Structure, Inc., conceived new park play pieces and a playground designed for the 21st century. The company Flagship Play was chosen to do the installation. DesRoches is known for his imaginative designs, which feature some equipment that can be accessed even by children with disabilities.
DesRoches, who got into playground design right out of college, said he tries to look at things through the eyes of the playground user. “As adults, we lose the sense of wonderment, so I ask myself, ‘How do kids look at this play ground?’ Will they say, ‘This is cool and different!’?”
“We had a lot of feedback from the community,” he said. “They liked the feel of what existed. The older equipment is simpler and cleaner. We designed a lot of it with that in mind, but there are a lot of newer pieces, too.”
The project was put into the city budget in 2015 and the design was approved this January, with $300,000 dedicated for the project, including $277,000 for playground equipment and land preparation, with the rest set aside to cover unforeseen snags. The project is funded with net debt bonds.
The newly designed park will include an area for younger children, ages 2 to 8, with low slides and a row of swings, with two baby swings for the very youngest. Older kids, aged 8 to 12+, will have their own section of the playground, featuring full-sized swings and a high slide. Concrete pillars suitable for climbing will surround the area.
The project also includes a unique feature. “We had a pop-up nature area that got a lot of positive feedback. People loved it,” said Pfeifer. “The Forestry Department donated trimmings and stumps. Kids are invited to go in to create little huts or do things with the stumps. It was whatever they could think of doing. We are making it better with a defined border and better grading, more logs and more twigs.” These features, as well as land preparation and a defined border, will become a key part of the play area, she said.
“We’re not trying to replicate nature,” said DesRoches. “It’s geared toward a nature space, but the impression is a bird’s nest on top of a hill. There is topography and grading to make it more organic in feel, with log shapes and mounds that kids can climb. We want to provide kids the freedom to take sticks and logs and make forts.”
Older pieces will remain, Pfeifer said, because the community asked to keep them. “There’s a lot of love for the existing equipment, like the metal slides and climbing pieces. We ended up incorporating them in the design.” Other equipment that no longer meets modern safety standards will be transformed. One, a popular dolphin piece, will be buried in the sand, with children encouraged to dig it up. A couple of steel slides, the chin-up bars, sand diggers and turning bars will remain.
Parents won’t be left out, either. A low hill will include benches so those parents with both older and younger kids can view the entire playground, something parents had said was needed.
The start date for construction depends on the weather. The best-case scenario, said Pfeifer, would be to begin in spring, but if the work couldn’t be completed before the end of the school year in mid-June, construction won’t begin until after the Monarch Festival at the end of summer. Construction time is estimated to be about six weeks.