What happens when kids get involved in the design of a playground? Amazing things! Just ask the community surrounding Atlanta’s Chastain Park. The only public playground serving the 85,000 school-age children within a 5-mile radius, the park’s playground had not been renovated since 2000 and was in dire need of an upgrade. The existing playground had a lot of deficiencies, primarily in that it really only appealed to a small demographic (ages 5-12). The majority of the play structures were too dangerous for smaller children, yet not challenging enough for older children.
Enter play specialist consultant Cynthia Gentry, an expert in childhood development who met with school children from the surrounding community to begin the design concepts. Kids were asked to imagine what they’d like to see on the playground and put that imagery into drawings, which became the inspiration for the all of the designs.
Gentry then enlisted the help of another consultant, Robin Moore, who specializes in nature-based play, currently a strong movement in childhood development circles. Together, Gentry and Moore conducted a charrette, or meeting of the minds, with representatives from the private school located inside the park’s grounds, local public schools and pre-schools, civic associations, the Parks Commission, and various members of the community. At the charrette, the group reviewed all of the children’s drawings and synthesized them into rough design concepts. A second charrette was held at NC State to compound all of the concepts into one overall design.
Landscape Architect Bill Caldwell took the ball from there, handling permits and turning the master plan into design documents for drainage, utilities, elevation, landscaping, hardscaping, and construction of the restroom pavilion. Caldwell contracted renown water resources engineer consultant, Bill Jorden, to develop the stormwater management plan to meet all of Atlanta’s ordinances for stormwater runoff quality and quantity.
“Our goal was to not create a detention pond on a beautiful site of rolling hills and historic oak trees. I also didn’t want to have to convert the flat spaces currently used for open play. Belgard products helped us to avoid these traditional stormwater management strategies,” Caldwell said.
With the help of Belgard Urbana Stone® permeable pavers and Mega-Tandem™ Mass Segmental Retaining Wall™, the team was able to conserve land, meet the stormwater requirements, and save a significant amount of money in the process.
“Because the playground was being built into a hillside, the project required substantial retaining walls, which initially called for poured concrete. We got two Mega-Tandem Walls for the price of one poured concrete wall. Also, using the Mega-Tandem allowed us to value-engineer the pavilion and reduce the amount of poured concrete needed for the foundation. Overall, we saved over $200,000 on the project, factoring the cost savings on the pavilion and the site walls,” Caldwell said.
In addition, the 9,000 square feet of permeable paver walkways controls the amount of rainwater runoff that rolls downhill, which alleviates erosion problems. “An impervious system would have caused a concentration of water flow to the lower elevations, which would have generated more runoff than the original site,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell also notes that the Belgard permable pavers and retaining walls allowed him to create the playground out of what was formerly unusable space. “I love the fact that we took a hillside with a 12-15 degree slope that was basically non-functional and turned it into a 1-acre parkland that is a highly functional and usable space and has become a high-value component of the park,” he said. “We created something out of nothing.”
And what Caldwell considers the best part…this playgound was designed by kids for kids, regardless of age or abilities. The entire playground is ADA compliant, with multiple handicap accessible play elements. “Even the texture of the permeable paver walkway adds a sensory element for children with sensory disabilities, which is not something they would get with a smooth poured concrete sidewalk. Addressing disabilities of multiple spectrums was always part of the discussion from the beginning,” Caldwell said.