Second Public Meeting: Healy Field Renovation

On December 14, representatives from Copley Wolff Design Group and Boston Parks and Recreation met with the community to discuss preliminary design concepts for the upcoming renovation to the playground at Healy Field. Based both on comments from the first meeting and on other practical considerations, the opening slide from Copley Wolff’s presentation listed four tasks for the design proposals to achieve:

  • Increase play opportunities
  • Replace wood chips with resilient surfacing
  • Update aging play equipment
  • Fully take advantage of existing space

While there are many other aspects of the design proposals that are worth discussing – in particular their use of water as a play element and the ways in which the designs add play value for all ages – it was the last of these goals that ended up dominating the evening’s discussion.

Since we have begun looking at Roslindale’s play space shortage, we have generally considered the playground site at Healy Field to be relatively problem-free. In particular, because the site is so flat, we have anticipated that it would present few accessibility issues, allowing the entire budget to be freed up for adding play value. What we did not anticipate, however, was that the renovation would put such an emphasis on increasing the size of the playground. Each of the initial design concepts achieves this goal in a different way, and each strategy has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Concept 1: Expand Behind Flaherty Pool

Concept1

The first design concept enhances the playground by developing the area behind Flaherty Pool into a landscaped access path. While the designers had considered the possibility of adding play structures in this space, visibility issues and the desire to preserve the existing trees suggest that this area is better suited to passive play. This plan has several benefits: it is fairly simple to execute, it develops a section of the park that is currently underutilized, and its pathway provides an opportunity to integrate nicely with the planned community garden at Healy Field. This design also presents some downsides, however. In addition to the visibility concerns mentioned above, the passive walkway does little to add much-needed options for active play, and may require maintenance by the parks department to remain an attractive play option. The designers are also unsure of the site conditions, noting that Stony Brook runs under that area.

Beyond the plan to develop the area behind the pool, this design concept proposes upgrades to the existing playground. The main feature of this design is a pump-fed play stream, which both provides play value and separates the areas designated for older and younger children. While this design seems like it would be a pleasant improvement to the existing space, it does not feel tremendously innovative or bold.

Concept 2: Expand Across the Driveway

Concept2

The second concept expands the play area by using a section of the park adjacent to the Little League field for swings and other kinetic play equipment. The immediate reaction of most of the attendees was that a playground divided by a fairly busy driveway introduces obvious safety concerns. Beyond the danger of having children crossing the driveway, parents with multiple children would have difficulty supervising their children if they chose to play in different parts of the playground. While some parents suggested solutions such as a bridge, concerns about accessibility and cost made this proposal seem challenging at best.

While safety issues are deservedly the primary concern with this design, it is worth noting that there are some benefits to using the space adjacent to the Little League field in this way. Moving the swings to this area is an easy resolution to the logistical problem that their large safety radius creates within a small playground. There is also some benefit to families who use the Little League field who might appreciate play options for their children whose siblings are playing baseball.

Under this concept, the existing playground site will also undergo some significant changes. Most notably, the water feature in this concept is a spray deck, which overlaps somewhat with the features being planned for Fallon Field. The play structures included in the renderings appear to be much more innovative than the existing “post and platform” structures, including a structure that appears to be a Corocord Frisbee. This design also moves the playground’s entrance to a portion of the fence along Florence Street.

Concept 3: Relocate the Driveway

Concept3

Of the three concepts, the most ambitious plan to expand the playground’s footprint is to move the driveway towards the athletic fields, expanding the contiguous space available for play. This plan would result in a play site with the fewest issues of the three concepts – it resolves both the visibility issues presented by the first concept and the safety issues inherent to the second concept. The obvious downside of this concept is that it is likely to be prohibitively expensive. Even if the budget could accommodate the cost of this reconfiguration, it would be disappointing to spend a significant amount on purely logistical concerns rather than using that money to directly provide more play value.

Costs aside, this design concept is compelling for several reasons. Its use of natural play elements – mostly boulders and a small grove of trees – provides a nice contrast with the more traditional play structures found in most Boston playgrounds. The water play in this playground features a nice layout with both a stream and a spray deck. Behind the stream, the long obstacle course both parallels the stream and winds its way through the existing mature trees. It is easy to imagine this playground concept capturing the attention of a wide age range and encouraging a fun flow to children’s movements throughout the space.

The Bottom Line

It was a bit of a surprise to us that the meeting ended up being so focused on challenges with the playground site, and we are concerned that the project’s $550,000 budget will be stretched thin by any design that requires significant changes to the site. Our expectation is that by the next community meeting (scheduled for January 19 January 21 at 6:30 PM, at the Archdale Community Center), the designers will have resolved the question of how – or if – to expand the playground’s footprint, and we can move on to a discussion that is focused more on the play opportunities that will be brought to the park. Based on the play elements that Copley Wolff listed as potential inspirations – particularly the equipment designed by Giochi Richter, shown in the gallery below – there is still plenty of reason for optimism. Please join us to help make the most of the design.

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