Playground design 101 |

Playground design 101

John StroudPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Stroud Post Independent

CARBONDALE, Colorado – Designer Dennis Wille has heard a lot of crazy ideas when he asks school children what they would like to see on their new playgrounds – bungee jumping, hot tubs, underground pools, food courts – you name it.”What I try to do is translate those things into something we can actually do,” Wille said during a visit to Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale this past week.For instance, one CRES student suggested a snowboard park be included in the new facility being designed for his school.Not real practical on its own. But, what Wille did come up with in the schematic design he produced later that day incorporated another suggestion, a wobbly balance beam, which happens to be shaped like a snowboard.”We try to come up with the greatest amount of opportunities for the broadest range of abilities,” he said. “And, what we’ve found is that, if it’s something that benefits one child, all the kids will use it.”Wille is a designer and project manager with Leathers & Associates, based in Ithaca, N.Y., which works with schools and parks districts around the country to design playground facilities using input from those who will actually be using them.Leathers has designed more than 1,000 playground projects in its nearly 40 years of doing business. Wille has been involved in close to 400 of those.He spent a day at CRES last Wednesday, meeting with groups of students in each grade to get their ideas. He then spent the afternoon drawing a schematic design incorporating those ideas, and presented his work to parents and students that evening.”The children were very excited about the playground; it’s amazing what Dennis can draw in a day,” said Mandy Brennan, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, which is heading up the playground project.The school found out about Leathers & Associates when CRES parent and Re-1 School District school board member Debbie Bruell and her family discovered a playground designed by the company in Frisco. Members of the PTO contacted the company, which led to Wille’s visit this week.The PTO has raised about $22,000 of its $80,000 budget to complete the project.”It could be less if many things are donated and we have a lot of volunteer help to do the work,” Brennan said.In fact, several dads and other family members got nominated by their kids to help out, and they weren’t even there to defend themselves.”My dad can help, because he’s really good at making things,” one second grade student said when asked by Wille for ideas on who might be able to help.”It’s going to take hundreds and hundreds of people to get this playground built,” Wille advised the students.The playgrounds are built using plastic composite parts instead of wood, which holds up better in dry climates with a lot of sunlight, he said.”Especially with school districts trying to do more with less, we want to reduce maintenance. That’s a huge plus,” he said.Construction of the new CRES playground is expected in September. The PTO is recruiting volunteers to serve on committees and to help raise additional funds to complete the project.For more information or to get involved, contact Brennan at

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