Playground to reflect Whistler’s social fabric 

All-season playground will have two tree houses and will be accessible to all

Get ready to play, Whistler.

The municipality is just days away from starting construction on its new universally accessible playground at the Whistler Medals Plaza site. The first phase will be ready for kids, young and old, to play on by the end of January 2010.

The new 13,000 square foot site will offer play structures and individual play elements for fun-seekers toddler age and up. It will be located where the old wooded structure was in front of Blenz Coffee and reach out in three directions from there.

When both phases of the playground are in place at the end of 2010, there will be two wooden tree houses; one for kids aged up to six years old and another for those aged seven to 12 years old.

Both will have significant roofs, which will stretch out beyond the play area to offer shelter from the weather all year long.

There will also be a Sway Fun Glider, which it is hoped will be shaped like a bobsleigh. It is a like an amusement park ride which several kids, including those in wheelchairs, can share. Other stand-alone elements will include a sensory wall, rope climbers, water and sand play areas, a saucer swing, and a spinning disc.

The disc is a kid favourite as it spins them around at ever-increasing speeds thanks to its axis being off-kilter. It is big enough to hold several kids at once.

The iconic wooden play structure that has been used at the site for over nine years will be decommissioned this month, though it is hoped that parts of it might end up around town in items such as benches, said Martin Pardoe, manager of resort parks and open space planning for the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

The idea of putting a community playground on the Medals Plaza site goes right back to the beginning of the master planning process.

"(It) was always seen as a place where resort guests and residents meet, and that is the social fabric of Whistler. And through that process and the consultation it led to a master plan for the site," said Pardoe.

"Part of that identified that the existing playground was really successful with the relationship between the businesses immediately adjacent to it and so a good thing to do would be to expand that playground and make it more of a focal point."

In 2007 the playground was budgeted to cost $1 million.

Since then municipal staff have partnered with outside organizations and charities and been granted $450,000 in funding from these external sources.

The remaining $550,000 will be funded out of the hotel tax.

Staff also received planning help, thanks to an anonymous U.S. donor, from LA based Shane's Inspiration, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children with disabilities.

Pardoe said staff is very cognizant of the large amount of money being spent on the playground.

But he said: "...As soon as you want to do something custom that meets the Canadian Safety Standards Association and something that it is also accessible and offers 12-month play, the costs do go up."

"This is a million dollar component for the community that is really at no cost to the local taxpayers."

Staff has also decided to use rubber matting for the surfacing of the playground, the most accessible of playground covers. It is also the most costly.

The tree houses are being built out of steel and then covered in reclaimed cedar. That, said Pardoe, will cut down on maintenance costs and help with durability.

They will be constructed by the Beaver Log Company of Kamloops, taken apart and then reconstructed under a huge on-site tent in November.

The playground will not be behind the security fences set up by Olympic organizers for the medals celebrations for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Pardoe believes that it is crucial for the resort to have this level of accessible playground as Whistler gets more and more exposure to travellers with disabilities.

The Paralympics will increase that exposure even more, he said.

Accessible parks are also being constructed in Vancouver and Richmond through the same funding partners. They will publicly announce their involvement in September.

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