Falcon Heights kids, parents plan new Curtiss Field playground

Viktor the Viking, the Minnesota Vikings’ mascot, helped Falcon Heights Elementary students draw their dream playground at an after-school “Design Day” event with KaBOOM! (Johanna Holub/Review)
Viktor the Viking, the Minnesota Vikings’ mascot, helped Falcon Heights Elementary students draw their dream playground at an after-school “Design Day” event with KaBOOM! (Johanna Holub/Review)
More than 30 Falcon Heights Elementary students showed off their dream playground designs, along with former Vikings players Rickey Young and E.J. Henderson, Vikings cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking, Toro Company Giving Program manager Judson McNeil and Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations Brad Madson. (Johanna Holub/Review)
More than 30 Falcon Heights Elementary students showed off their dream playground designs, along with former Vikings players Rickey Young and E.J. Henderson, Vikings cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking, Toro Company Giving Program manager Judson McNeil and Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations Brad Madson. (Johanna Holub/Review)
At a more mellow evening meeting, Falcon Heights adult residents had the chance to choose which elements were “must haves” for the new playground at Curtiss Field. (Johanna Holub/Review)
At a more mellow evening meeting, Falcon Heights adult residents had the chance to choose which elements were “must haves” for the new playground at Curtiss Field. (Johanna Holub/Review)
Construction crews had already begun removing the playground equipment the afternoon of April 9. The existing parks building and septic system will also be removed. (Johanna Holub/Review)
Construction crews had already begun removing the playground equipment the afternoon of April 9. The existing parks building and septic system will also be removed. (Johanna Holub/Review)

Nonprofit playground builder KaBOOM! hosts ‘Design Day’

Unfortunately for Sam, 7, a multistory castle probably won’t be going up anytime soon at Falcon Heights’ Curtiss Field. Keyon, 11, will likely be disappointed also that the city won’t be installing a swimming pool. And none of the trees are quite hardy enough to support a treehouse for Ada, 9. But that didn’t stop them from dreaming big.

The Falcon Heights Elementary students were asked to draw and describe their dream playground at a “Design Day” event held after school on Thursday, April 9, hosted by a nonprofit organization called KaBOOM!, which organizes and funds community playground builds.

Curtiss Field, located off Snelling Avenue just south of Larpenteur, has been torn up for the last few months as crews installed a new stormwater runoff system. Last week, the existing playground equipment and parks building were being dismantled.

The goal: to replace the structures with a brand-new playground designed and installed by community members. The projected build date is June 3.

The Minnesota Vikings and the Toro Company are helping out. Toro will donate equipment to dig footings for the playground site, and former Vikings players, cheerleaders and the high-energy Viktor the Viking mascot were on hand at the April 9 kids’ meeting to pump up the crowd and get their creative juices flowing.

‘Your playground’

Eilah Brown, KaBOOM! project manager, started by asking the students to guess how many volunteers it took to build a playground. Estimates ranged from a thousand to the hopeful “a whole team of Vikings” to “one really great person.”

The correct answer: 200 people, and it’ll only take 6 hours, with a couple of prep days beforehand.

Former Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson reminded the kids of how important play and exercise are for a healthy lifestyle, and encouraged them to get outside and use their new playground once it’s built.

After a couple of warm-up activities, the kids set out with the task of drawing their dream playground. Many included common equipment—jungle gyms, swing sets and monkey bars—but some got a little more creative, envisioning slides shaped like snakes, or some of the aforementioned castles, towers and even an official Minnesota Timberwolves basketball court.

After volunteering what they hoped to see in the new neighborhood playground, the kids heard from Principal Beth Behnke.

“It’s going to be your playground,” she reminded them.

Rain or shine—or snow

When the kids were done, it was their parents’ turn.

At a meeting later the same day, adult residents of Falcon Heights met in the school library to go over the logistics of the build and to plot out what exactly they wanted to see installed at the new playground.

Brown, who works at KaBOOM!’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., said this is her first build in Minnesota, and was surprised to see snowflakes falling on what had otherwise been simply a rainy afternoon. Attendees jokingly assured her that there was “only a 10 percent” chance of snow on the June 3 build date.

Nevertheless, Brown said the build would take place “rain or shine”—barring a natural disaster—and breaking only temporarily in the event of lightning.

Brown said “Build Week” would start on Monday, June 1, with a prep day where volunteers will organize the various equipment and tool deliveries for easier installation on the actual build date. A second prep day, reserved for unexpected delays like finding large rocks where holes are being dug or utility issues, is set for June 2.

Then, the morning of Wednesday, June 3, some 200 volunteers will gather and build the playground in the speedy fashion that inspired KaBOOM!’s name.

“At 8:30 a.m., it’s a blank slate,” Brown explained. “By 2:30 p.m., bam! Playground.”

The playground will then be fenced off for two days as the concrete cures, and the official opening is planned for Friday, June 5.

Focus on ‘playability’

The residents at the meeting divvied up various responsibilities, like volunteering to head committees in charge of tracking down food, tool donations, finding a DJ and recruiting volunteers.

Then, attendees had the chance to page through a packet of playground equipment, choosing which pieces were “must haves” for the 52-by-54-foot space.

Brown said the list of “must haves” would be compiled into a “design request” for KaBOOM!’s playground designers. The designers will then come up with three different designs based on the groups’ input, and the community will have the opportunity to vote on the favorite of the three.

The packet listed difficulty level, age range and the number of kids who could use it at the same time for each piece of equipment. Brown says she had the chance to look at the existing playground, which she said looked as though it were designed for kids on the younger side of the age range.

All of the equipment available is within ADA guidelines, and Brown says KaBOOM! is all about “playability” and inclusivity, encouraging the playground to be open to as many kids as possible.

Moving forward, Falcon Heights residents have the opportunity to participate in weekly conference call updates to hear from committee heads about the progress being made.

The city is also gathering a list of interested volunteers for the June 3 build day. Volunteers must be 18 or older to work on the actual playground footprint, but no previous experience is necessary.

To sign up to volunteer or for more information about the project, call Falcon Heights City Hall at 651-792-7600 or click here.

For more information about KaBOOM!, visit www.kaboom.org.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.
 

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