Group looks to upgrade Smith Fields playground

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Noland Design Studios’ rendering of the new playground planned for Smith Fields. (Photo courtesy of Project Whitefish Kids)

While the playground at Smith Fields is a favorite of many children in Whitefish, advocates for the park say it must be replaced.

Project Whitefish Kids, the nonprofit that operates, maintains and develops the Smith Fields Youth Sports Complex, is currently raising funds for a new playground structure at the park, which they’ve priced at $292,000. The current playground was constructed in 2002 when the complex was built.

Lynnette Donaldson, former vice president of the group, said it’s necessary to replace the playground.

“There’s nothing we can do with this structure to make it safe,” she said. “The reason that we have to spend all this money is because there’s not another option.”

Donaldson said the playground no longer meets current safety standards according to the city.

Gloria Nelson, chair of the playground advisory committee for Project Whitefish Kids, cited several reasons for needing a replacement playground.

“The height of the structure for one, the kids can climb out on the roof and fall from that height,” she said. “The city told us we couldn’t put enough safe surface area down to mitigate a serious injury if a kid were to fall from that height. Slides are super fast and steep, and the stairs inside are really steep and narrow.”

The new playground was designed by Noland Design Studio. It would occupy a 120-by-80-foot space and offer up to 159 kids 42 different play events and 14 slides and swings.

The play equipment alone costs $142,000, with the remaining $150,000 coming in installation, site preparation, surfacing and freight costs. A pavilion will also be built nearby to offer space for families to enjoy and use for various events.

Nelson said Project Whitefish Kids looked at many designs before deciding on Noland’s.

“This is the one that we felt met our needs most and was the most cost effective,” she said. “But we did find out that playground equipment is really expensive. What we wanted is something that was challenging, but also provided challenges in the design of the play scape.”

“The kids like to climb out on the roof of this one, so we recognize that kids love to climb, so that was one of the things that drew us to this design, that there’s a lot of climbing opportunities,” she added.

Project Whitefish Kids is participating in the Great Fish Challenge and said so far they have raised roughly $50,000 for the project.

Donaldson said they’re exploring different options for how much of the total cost the community can help out with.

Western Building Center has already pledged picnic tables for the project.

“That $292,000 is the money that we know it’ll cost to build this playground without any in-kind donations — we haven’t really explored how much of that we can ask the community for,” Donaldson said.

Donors can also cement their names into the project through a partnership with Stumptown Art Studio, Nelson said. Donors can choose one of three price points — $25, $250 or $1,000 — and for each price point they’ll get to design a tile to go into the pavilion.

Donaldson noted that the park, which is completely donor-funded, serves a huge population of people in Whitefish without receiving city funds.

The park hosts 40,000 visitors each year, including athletes, parents, coaches, visiting teams and their families. It is also the local playground for an area with 450 homes in six neighborhoods in south Whitefish.

“This really is a neighborhood park but also serves the whole south of Whitefish,” Nelson said. “The park has a lot of things to offer. The economic impact that it has on Whitefish is substantial.”

Project Whitefish Kids hopes to break ground on the playground in fall of this year, with a completion date hopefully set for spring of 2018.

Nelson said she’s excited to see how a new playground can take a popular park forward and benefit the community.

“We’re just really excited about a new playground here and what that means to our community, and super excited about the development of south Whitefish and all the people that are in this area,” she said.

Donations can be made online at pwkplayground.org and by mail to Project Whitefish Kids, PO Box 2010, Whitefish, MT 59937.

For more information, visit pwkplayground.org or email pwkplay@gmail.com.

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