In April 2017, Mike Goldstein watched with tears in his eyes as flames engulfed Project Playground, a community asset his children played in and that he helped build.
“Three of us stood out here crying, watching the smoldering embers. We decided right then that we would try and do something to get this back to the community,” Goldstein said.
On Saturday, Goldstein’s eyes glistened for a different, happier reason: hundreds of eager children and their families packed Twin Lakes to play in the rebuilt playground during a reopening celebration.
Public officials stood before the purple arch entrance to Project Playground at noon on Saturday. A red ribbon held children back from entering the park until Mayor Ken Koelsch cut it down. Balloons lined the arch.
Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove asked the crowd to raise their hands if they helped build the original Project Playground, which opened in 2007. A few hands went up.
She then asked who helped build the new park. Many more hands went up.
When she asked who’s excited to play in the new park, almost everyone’s hand raised above their heads.
“It’s not just a playground, it’s a physical symbol of everything that is rock awesome about Juneau,” Cosgrove said.
Project Playground was a community effort, said Goldstein, who chairs the volunteer steering committee. Hundreds helped rebuild the playground, and thousands more donated to community fundraising. A group of legislators helped raise about $100,000 at May concert. Multiple crowdsourcing campaigns flooded with money so quickly that city officials had to ask donators to funnel money to a central location to ease organization.
That effort added about $350,000 to City and Borough of Juneau insurance money used to rebuild the playground.
About 900 people came out during construction to turn screws and erect equipment. More than 1,650 individuals and businesses bought the pickets which line the park, setting a record for the manufacturing company, Goldstein said.
“We have the record in the country for the most pickets sold for any playground,” Goldstein told the crowd before the playground opened.
Parks and Recreation Director George Schaaf said the rally around building the new park exemplifies Juneau’s generous community spirit. Schaaf took his position as the head of Parks and Recreation in May and said he felt lucky to help with the project. Parks and Rec will oversee the park.
“This is what the community of Juneau is all about,” Schaaf said. “We come together and do something bigger.”
Juneau’s playgrounds are aging, Schaaf said. He’d like to replace playground equipment every 10-15 years to keep it within safety guidelines. Some of Juneau’s 16 playgrounds are over 30 years old, and are generally not in great condition, he said.
“What’s the next big project going to be? We have a lot of parks and a huge amount of potential to do some cool stuff like this,” Schaaf said.
The new Project Playground is designed based on the old one, but with a few upgrades. The steering committee heard from the public that parents wanted better lines of sight in the playground. The rubber bark used in the previous park was supposed to be accessible for those living with disabilities, but in reality it was tough for people in wheelchairs to move around in.
Some of the small nooks and crannies in which children could hide from their parents were redesigned, and some ramps were reworked to be easier for those in wheelchairs.
A dual zip line was popular with many children, who lined up to wait their turn. An enclosed turf field toward the back of the park affords children a place to kick a ball around or play catch. Additional benches in the play area let parents take a break while keeping their eyes on their children.
A little-used pavilion in the back of the old playground was moved to near the entrance, said Chris Mertl, a landscape design architect who worked on the park design.
One big improvement is the poured-in-place rubber play surface throughout the park, Goldstein said. The surface sinks a few inches underfoot, allowing a more forgiving landing surface. It’s the best surface to use if you want a play area that’s both safe and accessible to everyone, Goldstein said.
The steering committee initially thought they’d cover only a portion of the playground with the expensive, state-of-the-art surfacing, but fndraising was so successful, they were able to pay to surface the whole playground with poured-in-place rubber, Goldstein said.
“People from all ages and abilities can get around every foot of the playground,” he said.
A trio of boys, Beck Schneider, 12, Arik Koverdan, 10, and Andy Koverdan, 8, stood in line for ice cream after testing out the new park. Each were impressed, saying that they think the new park is better than the old one.
“I think they got a lot more different stuff. The last one there’s the swings, now they have the cool swings where two people can ride in them,” Arik said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.