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Pavion Park Playground
Mission Viejo, Calif

By Michael Miyamoto, LASN


The play site at Pavion Park in Mission Viejo, Calif., was considered Orange County's first universally accessible playground when it was built in 1985. RJM Design Group Inc. and city staff made sure it stayed that way when the old playground was torn out and a new one was built there. All sorts of vibrant colors burst forth from the revamped play site, and all of its elements are accessible from the ground level, providing equal access to everyone. A popular station is the electronic light and sound game called Neos 360 that can be played in groups.

RJM Design Group, Inc., of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., was the lead landscape architect for the Pavion Park playground, and worked in collaboration with the Southern California city of Mission Viejo.

The play site was strategically placed at the neighborhood park because of its proximity to Phillip J. Reilly Elementary School and the Orange County Board of Education's Special Needs School, located within the same campus. Special needs children from all over the south Orange County are bused to the school on a regular basis.


Perhaps the one feature that stands out the most is the game maze (left) with its many embedded numbers, letters, shapes and brilliant colors. The rubber safety surface was poured in place. The landscape team also incorporated Cruise Line, Raptor Rock Head and Rock Tail play stations into the playground. The playground is accented further with Adirondack chairs, Lodgepole fencing and sandstone boulders.

Over the past three decades, the play area fell into a state of disrepair and replacement elements were no longer available. Mission Viejo set out to upgrade the entire play space, and at the same time, address the growing needs of an increasingly diverse community. The play area was removed and replaced with a state-of-the-art facility, while maintaining its much-needed universal accessibility for children of all ages and abilities.

The new park layout took two separate, segregated play areas and combined them into one large expansive ocean of play opportunities, with no barriers. The play elements are now accessible from all sides. The sand area was made smaller and confined to one spot, so sand is no longer spread about the park, causing drinking fountain clogs and unsafe slippery conditions.


More than 20 traditional climbing, spinning and twirling elements can be found at this playground. The Gliding Cable is one of the most popular features there, as children are able to pile onto the top of a sled and glide above the ground.

The layout encourages collaborative play. Trees were planted in the play areas to provide abundant shade and create a forest type setting. A sculpture of children playing leapfrog and a sand area with buried fossils promotes education, exploration and socialization. Swings are equipped with harnesses and back supports to protect children's necks.

Benches, tables and chairs are strategically placed facing each other, so caregivers can relax, enjoy the surroundings and talk to one another. There is also perimeter seating for people who just want to observe and not get into the mix of play. All seating areas have trees for adequate shade and a connection to nature.


The site also features a large, colorful GFRC Tree House that draws visitors inside, and its many interior sensory stimulations keep children from wanting to leave. Trash receptacles from Quick Crete and picnic tables completed the landscape.

Research and education were key to getting the project funded and built. City staff evaluated about a dozen universally accessible play areas throughout Southern California to provide effective design input. There was a substantial learning curve to educate the city council and residents on the cost differential between a universally accessible play site and a typical neighborhood playground. The city took the time to research laws, rules and regulations, and state, national and industry standards, in order to educate the public about the benefits of universal access.

Mission Viejo has 52 parks in the community. The city took the time to meet with neighbors, conduct presentations at planning commission meetings, and ask park users what they would like to see. This was critical, because universal access is more of philosophy, without any sort of detailed guidelines, according to the landscape architecture firm.

The project was recently named one of the best family parks in Orange County, in large part because of the playground. Its success can be measured by the use. Average daily use by the hour is typically 20-50 children. During peak hours on weekdays and weekends, up to 150 children are playing there. This is a significant increase, the landscape design firm said.


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As seen in LASN magazine, February 2017.

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October 17, 2019, 6:30 am PDT

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