published Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Proposed renovations to Collegedale's 'Imagination Station' stir unrest

Kristen Taylor, right, waits at the bottom of a slide to catch her daughters Grace, 2, middle, and Claire, 4, left, as
they play at the Imagination Station on Wednesday in Collegedale. There is a debate in Collegedale on wether
to leave it be, shut down the wooden playground, or possibly replace it with a plastic one due to the splintering.
Kristen Taylor, right, waits at the bottom of a slide to catch her daughters Grace, 2, middle, and Claire, 4, left, as they play at the Imagination Station on Wednesday in Collegedale. There is a debate in Collegedale on wether to leave it be, shut down the wooden playground, or possibly replace it with a plastic one due to the splintering.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Collegedale Mayor John Turner said he "got knee-deep and dirty" 23 years ago when he and scores of other residents helped build the city's large wooden playground, named the Imagination Station.

"We are currently driving a 1990-model playground," he said. "We want to improve upon this and upgrade."

But many in the Collegedale community are fearful of the City Commission's proposed upgrades, with some even worried that the play equipment would be dismantled and replaced with plastic and steel.

Signs placed on the playground say that it would be closing on Sept. 2. Other than a design of a plastic playground displayed in City Hall, residents did not know any specifics and were not included in the conversation regarding the playground's future, said Cynthia James-Catalano, a mom whose children play there.

City officials said they were surprised by the residents' reaction.

"We did not anticipate the groundswell of concern that has taken place, and I think it happened from misinformation," City Manager Ted Rogers said.

At a public meeting Tuesday, city commissioners explained their plan to spend $500,000 on the upgrades and listened to the concerns of parents and children.

"I wasn't sure what to expect in the meeting," said Fallon Jimenez, a mom who started an online petition to "save the Imagination Station" that has garnered more than 500 virtual signatures.

"The city is working with us," Jimenez said. "But, they want what they want and I am still hesitant about the changes to our playground."

"We have called a time-out on the project to gain the public's input," Turner said. "But no matter what decisions we make about the new design, we won't appease everyone."

The plan is to make the playground disabled-friendly, improve its aging structure and create ways for parents to exercise at the park while their kids play. Commissioners also are concerned for safety and want increased visibility of kids on the playground.

"If you can't see your child all of the time you get a little nervous," said City Commissioner Katie Lamb, a grandmother who often takes her grandchildren to the park.

PlayCore has been contracted for the project; plans for the new design have not been finalized. PlayCore is working on plans that will upgrade parts of the playground and mix these renovations in with the existing wooden structure, Rogers said.

Once the final design is developed another community meeting will take place, Turner said.

"Hopefully the project will be completed by Christmas."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6592.

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