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Kids integral in planning new play area

The children of Oak Harbor want a playground designed with a sinking ship smashing into a castle, a submarine, a volcano and a Garry oak tree house.

And if everything goes as planned, that’s exactly what they’ll get this summer.

John Dean of Leathers & Associates, a New York state company, unveiled the preliminary design last week for a $125,000, one-of-a-kind playground that will cover about 10,000 square feet in Fort Nugent Park.

Now that Design Day is complete, the hard work begins. The committee in charge of the project needs as many volunteers as possible to build the playground at the end of June. There will be jobs for everyone at any skill level, including kids. Anyone interested in joining the crew should call Parks Director Hank Nydam at 279-4756.

“It will be built in five days, like an old fashioned American barn-raising event,” Dean said. “It’s all about the community coming together to build these. To me, it’s more than building a playground. It’s building a community.”

Leathers & Associates has helped more than 1,700 communities build unique playgrounds, including one on South Whidbey. Dean said Oak Harbor’s will be twice as big as that one and will be made from durable recycled plastic boards.

It all starts, and ends, with the children. More than 50 volunteers from the playground steering committee, PTA members and others visited every elementary school in the Oak Harbor School District last week to ask the kids what they would like in a playground.

The children created their own sketches or wrote out descriptions, which were all on display at the Tuesday night unveiling event.

Ideas included a house of mystery, an Arabian palace, a climbing wall, a “hamster habitat” for kids, a tic-tac-toe board, a human Velcro wall, a maze, a ball pit, a squirt gun shooting galley, walkie-talkies, a horse barn and airplane parts.

One boy suggested the playground could include a hole in case you want to hide from your mom. Another drew a “tombstone park” with zombies popping out of the ground.

Ten-year-old Megan Nielsen described the perfect playground with many inventive features, including a rope and pulley system.

“I can see it now,” she wrote. “It would be the funnest place on earth.”

After visiting with students in each students, the volunteer teams returned to Hillcrest, with hand-drawn sketches, to meet with Dean and sort out the ideas.

Dean also spent time drawing in the school’s cafeteria during lunch time. That way children could see the sketch while waiting in line. Some stopped by during their lunchtime to see Dean in action.

In the resulting sketch, Dean incorporated many of the most popular ideas in the playground.

“Your kids specifically wanted a ship smashing into the castle,” he told the audience.

In addition, the playground will have a moat, a dragon slide, a chain bridge, submarine, a volcano, a Garry oak tree house, a talk tube and plenty of swings. It will have a separate tot lot, with a maze and igloo, for smaller children.

Dean said the next step is for the committee to form sub-committees in charge of everything from raising donations to feeding the volunteers.

The exact date of the playground-raising event hasn’t been set — probably in late June — but Dean promises it will be a very memorable event.

“It’s indescribable to hear the sound of 50 hammers going at once,” he said.

Nathan Whalen contributed to this story.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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