On Tuesday, June 9, 2020, something remarkable happened. The City of Fort Collins Parks and Recreation opened all playground and park amenities to the public. Without fanfare, the newly-renovated playground at Library Park officially welcomed its first families to come and play.
Community residents had the opportunity in early 2019 to provide guidance in the renovation process. The City collected feedback that Library Park was especially appealing to families with young children and was one of the only playgrounds situated close to Old Town. Suggestions included adding a merry-go-round and climbing features, removing the wood chip flooring, making the playground itself larger, and using a color scheme that complemented the natural shady setting of the park.
The old playground and wood chips were cleared away in February 2020, and construction began in earnest in early March. The teal and bright green structures are very eye catching and it’s been fun to observe, through the window of Webster House, the passers-by stop to check out the progress at the park. However, the mid-March quarantine occurred just before the poured-in-place flooring could be installed, so the playground’s official launch was delayed.
Jill Wuertz with the City of Fort Collins served as the Parks Project Manager, and Rocky Mountain Recreation, Inc. was the equipment distributor. With the location of the park adjacent to both the Carnegie Center for Creativity and the Old Town Library, the Parks department wanted to incorporate visual references to creativity and art as well as a strong Library reference. Old Town Library manager Eileen McCluskey was brought in to help make decisions about how best to represent the Library.
In August 2019, the Parks Department invited the Library provide graphics/art for the panels on the We-Go-Round. The We-Go-Round is a fully wheelchair accessible merry-go-round which allows kids of all abilities to interact with the feature. It can be turned from the inside or outside, allowing everyone to participate in the fun.
No similar structures exist within the City, so this would be an attractive apparatus to provide a playground experience for all. Four illustrated scenes were created to be custom printed on a material called DigiFuse, a flexible material which can be changed in the future if an updated look is desired.
The District’s Communications Department and Graphic Designer, Laura Carter (author), ultimately created the artwork files which were provided. During the process, Laura had conversations with both Eileen and Old Town Library’s Children’s staff about how to represent Old Town Library. There was a consensus that meeting friends on the playground after weekly storytimes make the park a natural extension of storytime, outdoors.
The completed artwork panels incorporate many small details, including Library puppet Rafael the Raccoon and Library mascots, the theme of friendship, and references to a child-caregiver relationship as part of early literacy development. Additionally, local landmarks at the library and around the community were reflected, including Horsetooth Rock, the Poudre River, a chess set used by playful squirrels, and the cabins and large trees.
Most remarkably, though, there is a tribute to Vicky Hays, who retired as the park was in transition. An “I ♥ Miss V” is etched in the trunk of a tree near the cabins. All the illustrations were made more playful by merging books into the structures in unexpected ways.
Other art panels incorporated around the slide tower structure feature a “Talking is teaching” art panel and traditional alphabet graphics, the braille alphabet and the sign language alphabet panels. With one panel remaining, the City again invited the Library to provide graphics for the large slide structure, so a fifth Library-designed panel shows books with a bookmark slide. The playground also incorporates swings and an intricate climbing feature.
Original playground schematics included a custom climber with stair steps made of oversize books and a tree on the reverse side. While this distinctive feature was originally installed in March, the playground manufacturer removed it because it was not built correctly to meet the design specifications. The company is going to reuse part of it (a vertical book with the climber tree) and remanufacture the stacked book side. It will make it more playable and also meet the standards of what was purchased. It is unclear at this point when that feature will be restored.
Eileen passed along the following statement earlier this spring. “We are thrilled at how it has come together. It is beautiful, whimsical, and fun. During a stressful time here at the library, watching that playground go up has brought us so much joy. Even during this unsettled time, we are able to see forward to when kids are enjoying the We-Go-Round, …and just enjoying this magical space.”
The look of wonder on the faces of the young readers who came out to explore the park, once it finally opened to the public that Tuesday evening, said it all.