My fondest Olympic memory is of the ‘84 games. Even though I was just 8 years old, I vividly remember the way our neighborhood ‘70s-style metal playground was hastily transformed into an Olympic venue. Our Olympians, the teenage boys in the neighborhood, invented events and rules as they went along. The event most likely to be featured on a box of Wheaties was the way they used the momentum of the swing to kick off a shoe. The champion’s shoe made it all the way to the slide (an Olympic record that still stands)! A few years later, a new wooden playground was put in where everything was connected to a two story wooden structure (a precursor of the playgrounds of today) we had entered a new era!!!
The magic of my playground memories in no way prepared me for my first encounter with Kids Country in Coppell. It is a sprawling wooden castle with bridges and turrets galore; there’s even an amphitheater. Ancient looking Oak trees provide a roof that covers the vast majority of the area. As I looked incomprehensibly, I realized there was something I had lost sight of: my four year old son.
When I ask Kyle Cundy at Leathers and Associates about the redesign of the playground, she picks up on my experience as a parent right away, “I don’t think the way kids play has really changed, but parental expectations have.” “Sight lines” is the first thing she mentions along with accessibility & an emphasis on age appropriate play areas. The designer of the original 1992 Kids Country, Leathers and Associates is designing the updated version as well.
Kids Country is a beloved part of the area. It was brand new when Ed Guignon started taking his family here. Now Ed is a part of the volunteer steering committee working on the redesign of the park. “When Kids Country was built in 20 years ago, it had a 15 year lifespan,” Ed explains. As we walk along the weathered wood of the playground, he points to spots where slides had to be removed because they couldn’t find replacement parts. Swinging bridges and stairs suspended by chains have had to be fixed in place or even phased out over the years. The playground PVC pipe telephone system has been out of service for years as it has become clogged with debris. Then there are the drainage problems that have raised maintenance costs for the park.
Looking at the design of the new playground, Ed walks through the new features and innovations. One of the changes being made is actually including some of the most beloved features of the original Kids Country in the new park, including: the amphitheater and musical opportunities (glockenspiel, drums etc). All of the trees will stay in place, as will the handprints that line the sidewalk.
Community listening session at area elementary schools have yielded new features as well including: a guitar shaped slide, a banana shaped balance beam, an additional tire swing and covered seating for parents. Accessibility changes include a wheelchair/stroller friendly rubberized surface, lower bars and some lower swings. When asked about what he is most excited about, Ed immediately mentions a last minute addition to the playground that doesn’t show up on the plan, described as a climbing pyramid.
Beyond individual features, there are some big picture design changes as well. There will be separate areas for the under 3s and a 3-5 area. The sight lines are improved, so if a parent comes to the playground with their 2, 4, and 7 years old he or she could see them playing on different playgrounds simultaneously. Other innovations include play villages, pirate themes, and two climbable sculptures with mosaic styles.
The plans are laid out on the website www.kidcountry2012.com/. There is also a Facebook page www.facebook.com/kidcountry2012/. More than offering a glimpse at the future, these pages are the best way for members of the community and businesses to contribute/volunteer to make a difference. Just as the original Kids Country was built by the community (with some help from the Dallas Cowboys players), the new playground will be built by community members during build week from Oct 2-9.
As I enjoy playgrounds (mostly) vicariously these days, I am aware (from my own childhood) that memories and magic are being made right before my eyes. The last day the park will be open is Friday, July 27. Put a final trip to KidsCountryPark on your list of things to do this week. When I can see him, I will be watching my son with an extra dose of sentimentality.