Everybody's Treehouse: Community Inclusion Brings
By Anne-Marie Spencer, PlayCore
The play structures at Riverdale Park took three days to put in place, not including the installation and curing of the concrete pad beneath the
Germantown, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis, is one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States. As more businesses and families move into the area, the space available for play, recreation and relaxation has been squeezed by ever-increasing needs.
Germantown leaders wanted to find a way to add a natural space with a play area for children as well as places for families to gather.
Riverdale Park, adjacent to Baptist Rehabilitation Germantown hospital and Riverdale Elementary School, was the obvious choice revitalization, featuring a play area accessible to students, hospital patients and residents.
The school, hospital and park worked together to raise funds and build a place that all three entities could use on a regular basis. Baptist Rehabilitation-Germantown arranged a $150,000 grant from the Baptist Memorial Foundation to fund a play space themed around nature, enhanced with natural plantings.
Unitary rubber surfacing was poured in place beneath the play area from the curb cuts in the parking lot so mobility devices (i.e. wheelchairs) could move easily. Engineered wood fiber covers the nonramp areas.
The city's vision for a custom, tree-themed play space led to Andy Pouncey, landscape architect and Germantown's Director of Economic and Community Development, adding naturalized planting areas in and around the play space. Pouncey designed the planting pockets with PlayCore's NatureGrounds Program, which provides resources on combining built playgrounds with living landscapes to form
The hospital identified nature experiences as beneficial in treatment of conditions that include ADHD, learning disabilities, and orthopedic challenges, and looked forward to using the remodeled Riverdale Park for therapeutic sessions. Studies show that interaction with a natural environment improves brain development, enhances mood and speeds the healing process – an ideal combination for children at play, as well as patients of the rehabilitation hospital.
''Being in nature helps with brain development, because you are using all of your senses,'' said hospital administrator Susan Stralka.
Riverdale Park was a great site, though the project was not without its challenges. Existing mature trees were held over from the original landscape, and had to be factored into the new design. Choosing a suitable safety surfacing and extending it to the parking lot to ease any inconveniences for children with mobility devices was also a key element. Designing a play area suitable both for hospital patients receiving rehabilitation and physical therapy, and elementary schoolchildren on recess breaks – usually as many as 125 students at a time – was a tricky task.
The Spinning Seat by Playcore is popular at the park, along with the Rockin' Raft, a ball-in-a-maze game, and a spinning dome called the Tilted Sky Runner.
Features of the play structures include touch-activated panels that call out names and sounds of animals; a Rockin' Raft with seats, so children of all abilities can make it swing back and forth; a freestanding maze game height-accessible for children in wheelchairs; a spinning seat; and a Tilted Sky Runner that kids can grab onto and spin around when they lift their feet. Some swing bays were also installed with rubber safety surfacing beneath them so children in need of caregiver assistance could have easy access.
Native Tennessee plants, boulders, and trees blend with the monkey bars and swings, giving visitors the sense that they have slipped into the woods. Plantings draw butterflies, ladybugs, and songbirds to the area. The school grows learning gardens at the site, and uses them in outdoor classroom settings.
Ramps in the play structure allow children of all abilities to reach the top levels inside the tree by walking – or rolling – their way up.
Not only did the new play area contribute to Germantown's community-building goals, it was also a major contributor in winning the coveted City Livability Outstanding Achievement Award in 2011.
The award, and the playground itself, are examples of how a play environment can bring community groups together and positively affect people of all
ages and abilities.