Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 4, 2014

With funding in place, Magical Bridge moves forward

Designs evolve for Palo Alto's first 'inclusive playground'

by Gennady Sheyner

When a group of Palo Alto parents first approached city leaders in 2008 with a proposal to build the city's first truly inclusive playground, the project was based on little more than hopes, dreams and a plot of city-owned land at Mitchell Park.

Now, what is known as the Magical Bridge Playground has two more crucial factors going in its favor: a refined design and the necessary funding to make the dream a reality.

The latest plans for the new playground near the Mitchell Park tennis courts were scaled back slightly to accommodate the project's refined budget of $3.2 million (before, the budget ranged from $1.3 to $4 million, as plans evolved). The group Friends of the Magical Bridge has already raised the bulk of the funds, with donors such as the Peery Foundation and Enlight Foundation making sizable contributions. With the fundraising campaign edging toward its goal, the city's landscape architect, Peter Jensen, said work could begin as early as this summer.

The biggest change between prior and current plans is the decision not to replace an existing bridge that crosses Adobe Creek, as was originally intended, but merely renovate it to make sure the ramps can comfortably accommodate wheelchairs. Aside from that, the playground will include just about all the features that parents of children with disabilities had hoped to see when the project was first proposed: an array of play features and landscape elements that will accommodate children both with and without disabilities.

The playground will be composed of seven play zones, each centered around a different type of play activity. The design was created by Royston Hamamoto, Alley and Abey, the same architecture firm that designed Mitchell Park in the 1950s.

The largest of these is the "swing zone," which will include a swing set with six harness chairs, a two-dish swing that can accommodate two children; a sway boat that allows wheelchair access; a roller table with pull up bars; and an exercise area for adults.

The "spinning zone" will include five play elements, including a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round and various spinning apparatuses, each accommodating multiple users. A "tot-a-lot zone" will be geared toward children ages 2 through 5 and will include a double slide, a climbing wall and a spinning bowl. A "slide and climb zone" will have four different slides (including one with a curve and one with a banister) and a climbing area with "spiral tube climbers" that will help children scale that slide mound.

The "music zone" will feature musical equipment such as stacked bells, drums, chimes, a "metallaphone" (several metal poles that create a tone when hit) and a "laser harp," that uses laser lights that, when disrupted, make sounds such as musical notes and rustling leaves, according to a staff report.

The "natural play" zone, located near two oak trees, will include a two-story playhouse, a stage and an elevated tree walk offering views of Mitchell Park. The tree walk, according to the report, "creates the sense of being up in the trees, which a majority of those with limited mobility do not have a chance to experience."

Cordry Hill, the architect who created the design, said one of the key feelings that the firm tried to capture in this play area is that of being the "king of the mountain" or on the "top of the fort."

The final zone is the "open play zone," a turfed section near the existing areas that offers open space for groups to play in and creates a "retreat" area for children looking for a break from the rest of the playground.

Hill said the playground will include other elements aimed at attracting children with disabilities, including "tactile domes" and a fiberglass map of the playground that will allow visually impaired children to orient themselves.

Jensen said the city will continue to look at replacing the bridge over Adobe Creek and will look for grant opportunities to make this project possible. The proposed design, he said, will not prevent the future replacement of the structure.

The city's Parks and Recreation Commission had nothing but praise for the playground during a brief March 25 discussion, with Deirdre Crommie calling it "beautiful" and saying she "can't wait to see it." Chair Jennifer Hetterley agreed.

"This is exciting," Hetterley said. "(I) can't wait for it to come to life."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

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