After months of public input on two design concepts for Pleasanton's planned first all-abilities playground at Ken Mercer Sports Park, the City Council gave their own feedback last week.
"This is creative, this is like creating art," Mayor Karla Brown said after a staff presentation at the Oct. 5 council meeting. "It seems each playground is very unique and different, so we just want to make sure that there's some concept there, that we want to pay for this one day, and we want it to be just as beautiful as the designs are."
The city started planning its first all-abilities playground four years ago, when families with special needs relatives originally approached staff with the request, and have made it a top priority over the past two years including approving and budgeting funds for the design process.
"We don't make decisions in a vacuum, we really reach out to our residents," Brown said. Along with building a website dedicated to the project that is updated regularly, the city also held six stakeholder meetings with different groups to discuss the playground.
Using "as much of the public input received as possible while also reflecting the character and feel of the community and park," staff said in a report that "the two designs are meant to be interchangeable so that items in option one can be placed in option two and vice versa."
Called "Pleasanton's Rise Playground," Option 1 is an "inspirational" playground that "encourages bravery, confidence, and the joy of lifting up others."
"The idea behind this concept is to encourage each individual to rise up to their unique potential as well as to uplift others and find joy in that," project manager Gina Chavez told the council that evening. "You'll see a lot of elements that are related to rising up like sky elements including the sun and the clouds."
Celebrating "the park's green, lush setting and undulations," Option 2 -- otherwise known as the "Pride of Pleasanton Playground" -- "encourages users to discover nature through organic shapes, natural materials and textures, and a variety of adventures and challenges along the way," according to staff.
Interpretive play features that staff said "highlight the unique character of Pleasanton" are featured in Option 2, which also includes an entry area with a replica Pleasanton arch also featured in Option 1. A large main play area with a replica Kottinger Farm "or other key historic building in Pleasanton that could be interacted with in a variety of ways" has also been proposed for Option 2, along with nature-themed play areas outfitted with mounds, sand and sensory play items.
Though both concepts have different themes, each option includes additional accessible parking spaces, a drop-off and loading/unloading area, new parking stalls and a walking loop around the perimeter. Regardless of which design is chosen, the new all-abilities playground will replace the existing and outdated playground currently east of the softball field complex at Mercer Park.
Option 1 would include a rise plaza in the play space leading into a cloud mound climbing area, "and then that leads into a focal feature which is concentrated with an elevated structure that could be a bird, but could also be another element, and it has multiple types of climbers, slides, a zipline, and ramps coming off of it," Chavez said.
Another feature in Option 1 that has received "a lot of attention" from the community is Rainbow Road, a multicolored path with different colors of the rainbow and musical instruments lining it.
On either end of the rainbow are a spinner rocking zone and fitness group area, before moving into an active play space with a large net climber and bank shot basketball, which includes various sized hoops instead of just one so that people of all abilities can play side by side. Quiet areas, additional picnic areas and a sensory play area are also incorporated in the design.
Both concepts received high praise from the council, though Option 1 was unanimously preferred, with the exception of the bird.
"I do kind of worry about the bird concept, which I think is really neat and unique, but just the practicality of it, the durability of it," Councilmember Valerie Arkin said.
The bright colors and themes in Option 1 appealed to Councilmember Kathy Narum, but she said, "I have a little bit of concern with the bird, the maintenance of it. These things don't do any good if they're broken and not easily repairable."
"That's something I'd ask be considered as you move forward. We want the kids playing on this," Narum said.
Brown said, "I think I'm going to fall to the side of concept one, which is more colors and more frivolous fun and more things to look at and things to touch," but that she was "not a fan of the bird, sorry."
"I'm certainly not a designer but I like the idea of this rainbow theme coming through, love the kites, the flying kites there," Brown added.
Vice Mayor Julie Testa called the design unveilings "so exciting" and said she had "a tremendous preference for number one" and its "color, creativity and whimsical nature," but that "the bird needs to be more whimsical instead of bald eagle," as depicted in the rendering, and suggested swapping it with a butterfly instead.
"It kind of conflicts with this whimsy and play and color and the wonderful Rainbow Road," Testa said.
Testa also asked why both concepts have no water feature, which staff said they have been "very, very sensitive" about implementing during the recently declared local water shortage and 15% conservation mandate.
"It's been very difficult for conversations because we understand that sensory for a lot of our special needs participants comes around that sand and water play," staff said. "We have definitely heard a lot of families say they'd like the water feature, but staff is feeling very sensitive to the drought situation and the makeup of the recycled water in the park and how we'd logistically make that happen."
Testa said she "would still beg to include a mister for cooling, and if it isn't on during critical periods, then it isn't on during critical periods."
"It just brings so much joy; I think we would really be missing an opportunity," Testa said. "Pleasanton is hot, it's getting hotter."
Councilmember Jack Balch said he was also "not a fan of the bird, but I also just want to caution that when we talk about a butterfly or something else, we'd almost just be switching the problem."
"I'll let designers design, quite frankly, but I think it's an excellent concept of butterflies," Balch said.
There are several opportunities for public input in the near future, including another playground survey planned early this month and another Parks and Recreation Commission meeting in November. A final conceptual design and project cost estimate will be rendered once all public input has been received.
Staff said there is currently enough funding for design but none has been identified yet for construction, and that the design estimate "will be utilized to identify the amount of funding needed for the construction of the project."