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All Access Fun: Meadow Crest Playground, Renton, Washington

by Carol Henry, PLA, ASLA; Principal, Design Concepts
Photo Credit (unless noted): Robb Williamson, Williamson Images

Meadow Crest playground is a one-acre joint venture between the city of Renton, Wash., and the Renton School District that replaced two small playgrounds with a fully accessible site that features custom amenities for ages 2 to 12, including multiple play structures, climbers, steppers, spinners and swings.
Photo Credit: Design Concepts

At the grand opening of the Meadow Crest playground in Renton, Wash., last May, the Seattle Seahawks' feathered mascot Blitz and the Blue Thunder Drumline entertained city and school officials, civic organization leaders, teachers, parents, children, and others who gathered to celebrate this new inclusive destination playground. Designed by Design Concepts, an award-winning community and landscape architecture firm in Lafayette, Colorado, the playground was the first of its kind in Renton, a city of more than 96,000 residents, located just southeast of Seattle. The playground and adjacent learning center recently won a 2014 Governor's Smart Communities Award as a joint partnership project between the city of Renton and the Renton School District.


The low double slide off of the climbing wall is accessible from the lower or upper levels, and allows children to race side-by-side down to the bottom, or be assisted by caregivers. A double bobble rider (foreground) takes the place of a traditional seesaw by adding a spring that allows riders to wobble back and forth in any direction.

Meadow Crest was the first playground of its kind in several ways. The one-acre site represented the first time the city of Renton and the Renton School District collaborated on a joint-use development project. It also represents the first joint-use city and school district agreements in the state with co-located facilities, with no exchange of real property. Most importantly, it was the first time that Renton children of all ability levels could play side by side on a fully accessible playground.

Meadow Crest playground replaced two small playgrounds for the city and school district that sat back-to-back, separated by an eight-foot-high chain-link fence along the property border. The playground on the city side was part of a site that includes the North Highlands Neighborhood Center, while the school district side had a playground that served the Hillcrest Early Childhood Center, which was eventually replaced by the new Meadow Crest Early Learning Center. The district-wide public preschool enrolls 600 children, ages three to five, about half of who have special needs.


The Solo Swing (Biggo) in the 5-12-year-old play area engages single users or multiple children. Additional features include arch bucket swings and a post-and-platform structure (Landscape Structures) above custom-colored poured-in-place safety surfacing.

Community Efforts and Design
Terry Higashiyama, Renton's administrator of community services, was the driving force behind the playground. Also president of the Renton Rotary at the time, Higashiyama spearheaded a fundraising campaign over several years, securing donations from numerous community service organizations and private funders.

As the school building project got underway, the partners decided they needed experts in inclusive discovery playgrounds. Inspired by photos of Design Concepts' popular Discovery Playground in Spokane Valley, Wash., completed in 2010, they contacted the firm. Tacoma-based BLRB Architects, in charge of the design of the new $19 million learning center, hired Design Concepts to design and help oversee construction of the playground. Beginning in March 2012, Design Concepts led several community meetings with city and school administrators, teachers, parents, and community members. The firm's landscape architects also discussed the playground elements with the school's physical, occupational and speech therapists. The firm's master plan was approved in June 2012. Construction of the playground began in August 2013, just as the new learning center was opening, and was completed in May 2014.


Children climb and play on the colorful custom caterpillar by Integrated Design Solutions, a Gunnison, Colo.-based playground design firm. The 25-foot long caterpillar has a hand-carved and colored GFRC cementitious coating, with a structural foam interior.

The $2.5 million construction costs were paid for by the city, school district, and private donors, including $125,000 from the Renton Rotary Club. Local organizations and institutions, including the Renton Community Foundation, the First Financial Northwest Foundation, King County, the Seattle Seahawks, the Renton Housing Authority, Renton Technical College, Lions International, Kiwanis International, and Soroptimist-Best for Women also contributed. The school district paid for the playground's design fees. City staff maintain the playground, and maintenance costs are split with the school district.

The playground includes features designed to encourage healthy physical development, such as slides, swings, spinners, and climbing rocks, as well as nontraditional playground activities designed for sensory development. The layout and play equipment are focused on creating barrier-free access for all children, regardless of their physical, intellectual or emotional challenges. It is also designed to allow children to play together with their teachers, aides, friends, and family members. All play areas have adjacent paths for continuous easy movement. The colorful park has a tree and meadow motif, with plants and creatures depicted in the equipment and the poured-in-place rubber surfacing. Grassy areas are covered with synthetic turf, which is resilient, durable, and firm enough to allow for easy movement.


The synthetic turf 'Rolling Hills' (ForeverLawn) are at a 3:1 maximum slope, and provide a stable and maintainable surface, especially during Renton's rainy season.
Photo Credit: Design Concepts

The playground is divided into three areas. One playground focuses on early childhood, one focuses on children ages 5 to 12, and one is available to both groups for climbing, swinging, spinning and sliding. Children can play anywhere on the playground, but the design allows younger children to play independently from older children, as the play areas are delineated by a low seating wall. A perimeter fence around the whole playground has two gates; a public gate on the community center side is locked during school hours so students and teachers can have exclusive use, while a second gate with access to the school grounds is locked after school hours.


The 45-foot long custom climbing wall provides a visually interesting and tactile surface to accommodate the 4 1/2 -foot grade change up to the highest point of the playground. A ramped access walk allows easy, but not necessarily the only, access to the top of the wall and slides, and a great perspective for viewing the entire playground.

The early childhood areas feature equipment that helps young children develop balance, coordination, social skills, and imagination. They can climb on a sculpted ladybug, and spin in an Omni Spinner or on a ring-like Super Nova. A glider swing is big enough to accommodate a pile of kids. They can try the balance beam and play in a little house. In the painted-games area, children can hopscotch on a dragonfly or balance on a bee flying to a flower.

The Rolling Hills synthetic turf mound invites them to climb up and roll down, and in a climbing area, children can travel the circular walk or climb the tree to the top of a play structure and slide down the slide. Children on tricycles or in wheelchairs rolling on the Wavy Walk can stop at a stop sign, fill up at the gas station, and slow down in the school zone. They can also enjoy the sensory delight of making music on oversized instruments like contrabass chimes, marimba and tuned drums, which were designed by professional musicians for outdoor use.

Games imprinted on the safety surfacing, such as caterpillar hopscotch, can be used by children in or out of wheelchairs.

The picnic plaza overlooking the playground provides seating and shelter from sun or sudden downpours. BLRB Architects designed the shelters and a restroom building with family-style accessible stalls, which allows children to have maximum time on the playground. Inside the fencing and around the perimeter, trees such as Japanese katsura and gingko provide shady resting places, and ornamental trees such as flowering dogwood and 'Vanessa' Persian ironwood provide texture and screening, along with shrubs such as rhododendon 'Blue Danube' and dwarf heavenly bamboo. Perennial flowers, including purple cone flower and black-eyed Susan, provide summer color. Two weeks before the opening, a planting party of some 50-plus volunteers installed 600 plants in one day. Just as they finished, the skies opened up with a downpour -- no watering needed.

On the southeast side near the neighborhood center, ramped walkways lead to a climbing wall that gives users access to the highest part of the site. Children can climb the dimensional tree on the wall face, or descend the wall from a ramp above. They can also slide down from the top on side-by-side slides that allow therapists and friends to go up and down with students. The active play area features skill-building rock and rope climbing, a taller play structure, and side-by-side bucket swings. The large disk swing sometimes holds nearly a dozen laughing children.


Easily accessible ramps with handrails lead to the site's high point, where parents and children can enjoy a wide-ranging view of the play area. Plantings include Japanese silver and purple moor grasses and Shasta daisies.

One of the most popular attractions is the 25-foot-long multi-colored caterpillar sculpture. It's the "icon of the whole playground," says Todd Black, ASLA, capital project coordinator for Renton's Parks planning and natural resources department. "It's not only a cool design, but also very functional. Kids can climb, exercise their fine and gross motor skills, and really feel their accomplishment as they climb to the nose of the caterpillar." Black adds that he's seen adults clamber over the caterpillar, balance on the disc swing, and try to fit into the bucket swings.


Play features include a Super Nova spinner, an Omnispinner, a net climber that leads to a climbing rock, log benches and a low rise seat wall. A shaded picnic area (background, left) provides a break from the sun for weary parents and children. The colorful poured-in-place surfacing (SpectraPour) provides seamless accessible play throughout the playground.

It wasn't a surprise to anyone that the city and school district would have different goals, standards, and expectations. For example, some equipment types that one entity used were not allowed by the other. One entity had never used poured-in-place surfacing, while the other had. They agreed on many things, however, including the custom caterpillar and climbing wall, the need for shelters and restrooms, plenty of accessible parking and the goal of providing a truly special place for Renton residents to enjoy.


The wavy walk winds around the musical instruments and interactive panels. Its mild slopes are fun for running, rolling or walking. The new Early Childhood Learning Center is visible in the background. Featured plantings along the walkway include viburnum davidii, pink fountain grass and 'Spring Bouquet' laurustinus.

"We tried to select pieces that gave a variety of developmental and therapeutic play opportunities, and to maximize those opportunities, which was challenging considering the relatively small size of this infill site," said Design Concepts project manager Robyn Bartling, ASLA. "It was important for city and school partners to make this playground their own. There's always a long wish list, so you weigh the most play value for the most users."

Black says the collaboration, fundraising, and design and construction, though they took significant effort over several years, were all worth it. "It's amazing to see the pride and the good feedback we're getting about this project," he says. "It's one of those dreams come true."


The sculpted ladybugs (CRE8PLAY) provide one of many opportunities to see, touch and explore features intended for the youngest visitors to the park. Other features in the early childhood area include a playhouse, talk tubes, a spinner bowl and a log balance beam.

Project Team
Owners: City of Renton, WA and Renton School District
Architect: BLRB Architects; Doug DuCharme, AIA
Artists: Integrated Design Solutions
Civil Engineer: AHBL, Inc.
Electrical Engineer: BCE Engineers
General Contractor: Westmark Construction
Landscape Architect: Design Concepts CLA, Inc.
Mechanical Engineer: BCE Engineers
Structural Engineer: PCS Structural Solutions


Multiple seating areas are provided throughout the playground, either in the center of play, in shaded picnic tables, or in niches along the outside, surrounded by colorful plantings of purple and yellow coneflowers, coral bells, grasses and Shasta daisies. These quiet spots are especially valuable for children within the autistic spectrum to acclimate to their surroundings before joining into play.

Play Structure
Integrated Design Solutions
Landscape Structures


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