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Roslindale's Healy Playground
Complete Redesign for Community Playground

By Alli Rael, LASN


Healy Playground, located in the heart of a Boston, Massachusetts, neighborhood, was in need of an upgrade to replace the outdated and increasingly unsafe play structure. The Boston Parks and Recreation department hired Copley Wolff Design Group for the project. Principal Sean Sanger explained that their process of meeting with the public informed the final design, which included accessible elements, a natural play area, and a rope structure that provides a tree house feel.

Copley Wolff Design Group, a Boston, Massachusetts, based landscape architecture and planning firm, was contracted to redesign and upgrade the 13,000 square foot Healy Playground to create a welcoming destination for children of all ages.

"The Boston Parks and Recreation Department put out a request for proposals and fortunately we were awarded this park," said Sean Sanger, principal of Copley Wolff Design Group. "We've done quite a bit of work with the department and they know us fairly well, so I like to think that there's a fair amount of reputation and past experience there."

In the course of designing the new Healy Playground, the landscape architects at Copley Wolff met with the community three times to find out what the public desired, present ideas, and finalize the concept.

"It's really great when we have a very energetic public and the ability to get as many people to that first meeting as possible," said Sanger, who estimated 20 to 30 people were at the initial planning meeting. The meetings and the design spanned about five months.


To help create an inclusive play space, an integrated carousel was selected. "It's flush with the resilient surfacing so you're able to get on and off at the same grade," said Sanger. The carousel can be spun from a stationary wheel in the middle or by moving the rails on the outside.

"In addition to the public, we worked with some students from Northeastern University," he continued. "They were very focused on making sure the playground was fully inclusive in its design."

Once plans were completed, the existing playground - which consisted of a traditional single platform play structure surrounded by mulch - was demolished. The concrete paths were taken out as well.

"It was a nice little piece, but it was time for an upgrade from a safety side," explained Sanger. The only part of the existing playground that was kept was the mature trees surrounding the site.

After about two months of construction in the Boston summer, the playground reopened, much to the joy of the public.


The initial public meetings revealed a desire for height in the play structures - one young girl requested a tree house. In lieu of that, the rope climber was selected as the main play structure. "It has a whole variety of heights and different means of moving," said Sanger. "There's all kinds of different ways to use it."

"On the day they were taking the construction fencing down, kids were already there eager to get into the playground," Sanger recalled. "It was great."

That new playground includes a play tower for younger children with a slide, poured-in-place safety surfacing with an engaging pattern, a linear rope climber structure and more.

A natural play area was sited in a grassy area underneath some of the mature trees. "We brought in some logs and laid those on end," Sanger said, adding that they also placed some salvaged boulders in the area. "We tried to create a counterbalance to the play apparatuses and increase the more functional aspect of the play space."

"It definitely feels a lot bigger out there today than it did with the previous play pieces out there," he noted. Water was incorporated into the playground as well. "There used to be an old brook that ran through the site many years ago," said Sanger. "We created this play stream that follows the natural grade of the site, but introduced some other elements." The stream, which is made of round beach pebbles set in mortar, is about 4 feet wide and about 30-40 feet long, but has a grade change of about 2 feet in its course.

Healy Playground is situated within a larger park that includes a pool facility as well as athletic fields. "We added some birch trees to the back side of the pool," said Sanger. "We also planted some new lawn on the back side so there's a little bit of play on turf in there." Additionally, plantings were installed along sidewalk edges to help separate foot traffic from vehicular traffic in the driveway and parking areas.

"At the end of the day, we're really trying to create an environment that the neighborhood will embrace," Sanger said. "The more that we can have them take ownership, the more successful the project is going to be."

"We bring what we can and what we know to the table, but we work with the community to make it really special," he concluded.


In addition to an accessible water table where kids can play with the hydraulics, intermittent dams are located along the stream that courses through the playground. "It's not very deep, probably in the neighborhood of 12 to 18 inches depending on where you are, but we added flat bridges as a means for kids to go back and forth and interact with each other as much as possible," Sanger said.

Owner - Boston Parks and Recreation Department
Landscape Architect - Copley Wolff Design Group
Civil Engineer - Bryant Associates Inc.
General Contractor - Fleming Brothers Inc.
Surveyor - Precision Land Surveying, Inc.

Iron Age Design - Bridges and grates
DuMor - Benches and tables
Betula Nigra River Birch
Fargesia Rufa Sunset Glow Clumping Bamboo
Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold' 'All Gold' Hakone Grass
Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' Zebra Grass
Phyllostachys nigra Black Bamboo
Pachysandra terminallis 'Green Sheen' 'Green Sheen' Japanese Spurge

As seen in LASN magazine, November 2017, Playground.

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December 8, 2019, 8:11 am PDT

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