‘Absolutely magical’ playscape built by community no longer slated for replacement

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 3, 2023

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GROSSE POINTE PARK — A beloved playscape at Grosse Pointe Park’s Patterson Park won’t be meeting with the wrecking ball anytime soon.

After hearing from hundreds of residents — nearly 1,000 of whom signed a petition — the 32-year-old playscape — which was installed and designed by residents in 1990 — isn’t going anywhere.

Instead, the new playscape being donated by the nonprofit Grosse Pointe Park Foundation is slated to be built at Windmill Pointe Park. In response to public outcry, the foundation reevaluated its plan and opted to build the play structure in a different spot.

“We will not be taking down anything at Patterson Park,” said Bob Lucas, a trustee with the Grosse Pointe Park Foundation, during a Sept. 11 Park City Council meeting. “It will stay as is.”

Lucas was tapped by the foundation as the point person on this project because of his experience working on the Grosse Pointe Rotary Tot Lot in Grosse Pointe City.

He said the new playscape, which is accessible and meets modern play equipment safety standards, should fit into the area at Windmill Pointe Park where they now plan to locate it. The equipment had already been ordered because plans had been to start work on the project at Patterson Park in October.

“I think it’s going to be a great fit,” Lucas said. “I think we’re going to end up with a really great project. … Hopefully, everybody’s appreciative that we listened to everyone.”

Parks and Recreation Director Chad Craig said he believed the playscape would increase traffic at Windmill Pointe Park, especially outside the peak summer season.

“I think this is a win-win-win,” Craig said of retaining the Patterson Park playscape while having the GPPF build the new one at Windmill Pointe Park. “Every project (the foundation) has taken on has been an improvement (to the community). … I am wholeheartedly appreciative of what the foundation is going to do for us.”

Longtime Park resident Ron Porter recalled the construction of the Patterson playscape.

“It was truly a community effort,” Porter said. “Everybody in the community helped — kids, adults, grandparents.”

Porter said the playscape was “imagined and designed” by students at Defer and Trombly elementary schools and Pierce Middle School, and kids emptied their piggybanks to raise money for it.

On the first day of construction, he said, they were short of volunteers, but those on-site agreed to work longer, and as word trickled out into the city that more people were needed, additional volunteers started showing up.

“By the end of the day, we had more volunteers than we could feed,” Porter said, noting that even Mayor Palmer Heenan showed up to lend a hand.

“That’s why this project was so important — it was really a community project,” Porter continued.

Accompanied by her two young children, Paisley Mackie also called for the playscape’s preservation.

“The new ones are nice, but this one’s got character,” Mackie said. “This one was designed by kids. … It’s very special.”

She said she believed they could repair it rather than replace it.

Arlene Rozzelle said her kids loved the playscape, and the design led to more imaginative play.

“Please don’t tear down that wonderful playground,” Rozzelle said. “It’s unique and the kids become creative and they plan adventures on it.”

Sherilyn Russell-Steiger and her young son, Charlie Steiger, also sang the praises of the play structure.

“It has the nooks and crannies, (and) you can play tag,” Charlie Steiger said.

Trista Wdziekonski, whose children are ages 9 and 13, still enjoy this playscape.

“It grows with the child, and it offers something that challenges the child,” Wdziekonski said. “It is a treasure, and I don’t think it should be lost.”

Cassandra Pettiford, who recently moved to the Park, said her children, ages 6 and 9, love this playscape.

“This is absolutely magical,” Pettiford said. “I appreciate the history. It’s so great to hear the community came together to make it happen. … It’s something special. … Each and every time my children play (there), they find something new.”

Like other speakers, Pettiford appreciated the fact that this playscape “isn’t cookie-cutter.” She felt the solid wood structure seemed to be in good condition, despite its age.

Park resident Matt Kahl said the old playscape “is very well built.”

“I moved here three years ago because (the Park) had history and it had magic … and you as city (leaders) have a responsibility to be stewards of that magic,” Kahl said as he urged the council to preserve the playscape.

Other speakers pointed out that this playscape is engaging for older children — something that can’t be said for most modern playscapes, which are designed for younger kids.

“Every kid deserves to get (something) to play with,” said longtime Park resident Dick Schroeder, one of the volunteers who built the playscape.

Some council members accused city administrators of failing to engage the community on this project, as many residents said they didn’t know the Patterson Park playscape was slated for demolition until they saw something about it on social media. However, administrators noted that this project has been in the planning stages since 2018; construction was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and costs that ballooned afterward.

City Councilman Marty McMillan said he was one of the volunteers who worked on the Patterson Park playscape.

“(I want to) thank Bob Lucas and the entire foundation for being able to pivot as we got more information,” McMillan said.

Mayor Michele Hodges said the foundation has undertaken more than $4 million worth of projects for the city.

“That relieves our general fund … (and) increases property values and quality of life,” Hodges said.

The council voted unanimously Sept. 11 to accept the foundation’s donation for a new playscape at Windmill Pointe Park. It’s expected to cost around $400,000.

That’s not to say that the Patterson Park playscape won’t be touched, however. It has already exceeded the normal playscape lifespan of 20 years, and Craig said the city’s insurance company has some safety concerns.

“Their assessment came back that it would need some major renovations,” Craig said.

It wasn’t known at press time what would need to be done to make the structure safer, or how much it might cost. Craig said they had budgeted about $150,000 this year to replace some old play equipment at Patterson Park, so they should be able to apply that to the Patterson playscape instead now.

Lucas said the playscape contractor would be coming out to Windmill Pointe Park to see how to reconfigure the equipment to fit a different space. At press time, it wasn’t known when work would start or be completed. However, even in what Lucas said would be a worst-case scenario, construction is expected to start by spring 2024.