Northwest NEWS

April 29, 2002

Features

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'Playground Among the Trees' visioned for St. Edward State Park

by Deborah Stone
   Features Writer
   Kenmore resident Colleen Ponto is a strong believer in visions. She feels they're important in life because they give rise to action and lead to important accomplishments. Ponto creates her visions and then goes after them at full throttle speed. Her latest one is the Saint Edward State Park Playground project, an idea which came to her last fall during her morning power runs through the park. She says, "I love Saint Edwards Park because it's such a beautiful location. It has many wonderful features, but what it lacks is a set place for children to play. The park certainly has the land for a playground, but nothing has ever been constructed."
   Ponto envisioned a fantasy playground for all ages, constructed with durable materials that would enhance the natural surroundings. Her idea stemmed from a playground she had visited while vacationing in Florida. "This playground was wonderful," explains Ponto. "It was designed by Leathers & Associates (of New York) who specialize in neighborhood playgrounds, and it was made of wood and tiles and it fit so well into the environment. It had this community feel to it, because different parts of it listed who had helped create it and there were names of businesses, families, schools, etc. The theme was a fort and there was a great diversity of components, such as towers, bridges, tunnels, swings, etc. It was such a great place for kids' imaginations to run free."
   Little did Ponto know that there was someone else who shared her vision and had been working toward this endeavor for a number of years. When Saint Edward Park manager Joel Pillers came to his post 10 years ago, he knew the park was missing something. He pictured a playground encircled by picnic tables as a place for families to gather and play together. Over the years, he has been gathering funds for such a playground, eventually accumulating $10,000.
   Last fall, as Pillers began designing a playground, Ponto brought in her idea, and the two realized that their visions were totally in synch. She then took her plan to two colleagues and fellow Educational Leadership doctoral students at Seattle University — Edward Salazar and Kathryn Sprigg. Together these three professionals developed the playground plan as a Social Justice Project for one of their courses at the university.
   "This project, which is now officially called, 'A Playground Among the Trees,' has now become a massive community endeavor," comments Ponto. "There is so much support behind it and it is all being driven by volunteers. We have committees for each aspect of the project and we've made contacts in the community that range from government officials and national artists, to communication professionals, construction experts, businessmen and international installation artists. The amount of support has been amazing!"
   Construction of the playground will cost approximately $200,000, which includes the actual design (by Leathers & Associates) and materials. To date, the project has received some funding assistance from the cities of Kenmore and Kirkland, and according to Ponto, the rest of the money will hopefully come from corporate and private donors, grants, service organizations and state and local governments.
   In the near future, companies, organizations and individuals can opt to sponsor individual elements of the playground. In addition, various schools in both the Northshore and Lake Washington school districts will hold coin drives.
   "We have at least five grade schools on board," comments Ponto. "They're not only going to help with fundraising, but they'll also be involved in the design of the project. Students will have the opportunity to participate on design teams to come up with ideas for what they want included in the playground and how they want it to look. They will make their own drawings or models and then we are going to have a special Design Day on Nov. 16 where they can present their designs to the Leathers & Associates team who will absorb the students' wishes and suggestions and incorporate them into the final overall design. The kids will also play a big role later on in helping to create the artwork that is going to be integrated throughout the playground."
   The playground's size will be approximately 100 x 150 feet and made of a blend of plastic and wood materials. Elements envisioned for the structure include ladders, monkey bars, climbing webs and ropes, bridges, slides and a variety of tubes, all to be installed just outside the ranger station at the park by May 2003.
   All construction will be done by volunteers and Ponto predicts that a minimum of 500 people will be needed to "barn raise" during construction week, scheduled for April 21-27, 2003.
   The playground will be dedicated Sunday, April 27, 2003.
   "It's necessary to set specific time lines," says Ponto. "That way everyone knows the schedule and can work toward meeting each of the objectives on the way to achieving the final goal. It's necessary to do this to go after your vision or it won't become a reality."
   For more information about the Saint Edward State Park Playground project, call Colleen Ponto at (425) 489-0549 or check out the projectís website at http://stateparkplayground.org (due to be up and running in a few weeks).