All fun and games—building a playground for Pacific Heights Housing Co-op

Posted on: September 12th, 2012 by Heather

They say it takes a village to raise a child. A recent Projects in Place Society build demonstrated that the same holds true when raising a playground.

In the summer of 2011, a member of the board of the Pacific Heights Housing Co-operative approached Projects in Place with an exciting task: to work with them to bring new life to their existing playground and make it more inviting—a fitting project given 2012 is the United Nations International Year of
Cooperatives.

The original playground had been built in 1986 as part of an award-winning housing development that saw the restoration of eight heritage homes, with the addition of a courtyard and a seven storey, 73-unit apartment building.

After evaluating the site and talking to the residents, including
the kids who would eventually use the playground, we realized we had a unique opportunity to envision an area for interpretative play; where kids could be inspired to invent their own play and discovery scenarios.

Research is starting to show that passive play equipment does not fully encourage a child’s development. Besides being costly, the concept of “the big shiny toy” tells kids to play in a certain way. For years, parks, playgrounds and other facilities have encouraged this kind of play to the exclusion of all other play experiences. More recently, the move has been towards natural playgrounds as a way to allow kids to play in a more holistic, creative and imaginative way. Not only do children learn to hone important motor skills, but also playing on this type of playground has been shown to help a child develop emotionally, socially and intellectually.

With this approach in mind, three sets of plans were drawn up under the lead of landscape architects Bryce Gauthier and Claudia Frizzera, with the unanimous choice of residents being one that included water.

In May, Co-op residents held a work party to demolish the old playground and the groundwork was underway for an August build. A call went out for volunteers from the Co-op and the public, with more than 40 people of all ages and backgrounds signing up; showing up on a sunny day ready to sand, paint, dig, haul dirt (and more dirt), plant and anything else required to bring the elements of the playground to life.

A good place to sit a spell

For seating, benches of a somewhat random design were constructed and installed on the perimeter of the water feature. Taking a cue from the jewel tones of the heritage homes flanking one side of the courtyard, the red cedar boards were painted in Marine Blue, Pavestone Red and Savannah Yellow, using an oil-based stain that was friendly to both the environment and the kids, who also assisted with the painting.

A tree grows in a Co-op

The courtyard garden included two existing railway tie planters planted with Japanese maples. They were replaced with unique planters made of wood dowels and rope, designed by local furniture designer Sholto Design Studio. The same bright stain was used on the wood portion, and ground cover plants were added

A forest of fun

Perhaps the most significant feature of the playground—certainly the one that took the most planning and construction time—were the 16 wooden posts dubbed ‘art sticks’ that became the pet project of structural engineer Stephane, the newest member of Projects in Place. After much sanding and several coats of a special flexible paint, the sticks were erected in custom- designed metal footings set in concrete on a padded Astroturf- covered berm. The kids will be able to run and play amidst the sticks as if in a forest.

A creek runs through it

What kid doesn’t like to get wet, especially on a hot summer day? A fire engine red waterspout was installed allowing kids to control the water flow by a simple push of a button, creating a ‘creek’ for splashing and cooling down. If you look closely you can see the handprints of Co-op kids in the concrete of the ‘creek bed’, and one of the Co-op’s ‘artist in residence’ painted the surface with a whimsical underwater motif.

A place to grow

Under the direction of the Co-op’s landscaping committee, several
patches of garden space were incorporated into the playscape,
while an adjacent courtyard bed was cleared and re-planted.
Native plants like oxalis, strawberries and salal, chosen to
withstand little feet, were generously provided by N.A.T.S.
Nursery
 who also gifted a dwarf magnolia tree that will burst into
delicate white blossoms each May. Several hardscaping and
installation details were taken care of by hardworking friends at
Horizon Landscape Contractors, including the perimeter boulders that completed the natural look and feel.

The end result: a vibrant play area for the kids, a focal point for the courtyard, and a hang out for the Co-op’s residents, created with hard work, cooperation and an equal measure of fun, plus the support of The Parker restaurant, ING DIRECT and others.

For Projects in Place Society founder Bryce Gauthier, who is also a parent of two pre- schoolers, the playground build was a Projects in Place highpoint. “I think we accomplished our goal of creating a place for all residents to use regardless of their age, ultimately adding to the aesthetic of the complex and the richness of their community,” he said. “Working with the Co-op was a great experience—we couldn’t have asked for a better partner.”

“The most exciting part of this project was how it brought together so many different people,” commented Tasha Ogryzlo, project lead for Pacific Heights Housing Co-op. “Members from our Co-op, with and without children, volunteers from Projects in Place, and folks who heard about the build and thought it might be a fun thing to do on a Saturday!”

In the words of two-year-old Rosie who had been eagerly anticipating the playground, “I like the playground; it’s my favourite!” What better place for Rosie to grow up amidst her family and Co-op family and friends of all ages.

It truly does take a village…

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