Playing by new rules at the new Playground by the Sound —

Playing by new rules at the new Playground by the Sound

By Kathleen Merryman
The News Tribune

If the old rules still applied, dozens of children would not have inaugurated the Playground by the Sound on Sunday evening.

Under the old rules, communities ask politely for a playground, then wait until officials somewhere have it budgeted, designed and built.

Under the new ones, people are earning the right to bring the fun, and big chunks of money, to their neighborhoods.

Still, it’s a tough game for political novices.

That’s why University Place children got lucky when Linda Bird moved.

The politically savvy former mayor of University Place enjoyed taking her grandchildren to the park in her old neighborhood. When she moved closer to Chambers Creek, she realized there was no playground nearby.

A golf course, yes. A dog park, yes. A stunning walking path with meadows, yes. But no playground.

There was, however, a spot for one. It was built into Pierce County’s plan for Chambers Creek Properties.

Bird collected a steering committee, including Jim McCaffree, to figure out where the money was. They figured they would need about $200,000 for a 12,000-square-foot site. This is where Linda Bird’s son Jonathan, a software engineer, demonstrated his super-powers.

Pepsi had diverted its 2010 Super Bowl advertising dollars into The Pepsi Refresh Project, an online contest in which people voted for playground funding. The hitch was getting Playground by the Sound a spot in the contest at the right level.

“I helped her figure out how to get on multiple computers and increase our chances of getting accepted,” Jonathan Bird said.

He helped his mother build an email system to nag everyone she knew to vote. She and the committee members did the same with their friends.

They started big, at the $50,000 level, and kept losing.

They dropped to the $25,000 level and refined their vote-trading coalitions with other contestants.

People who had promised to vote for them were not following through, said Jonathan Bird, who seemed surprised to find treachery in webworld. He devised a program to reveal the liars and highlight the groups that were good for their word.

“Trust but verify,” Linda Bird said. “Frankly, it was the PTAs that followed through. Those women know how to organize.”

After months of voting, Playground by the Sound won twice at the $25,000 level and twice at the $5,000 level, for a $60,000 total.

To that, the group added a $40,000 gift from the Names Family Foundation and a $100,000 grant from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

They contracted with Leathers & Associates’ Barry Segal to design the playground, which has spaces for big kids and little ones.

The structures are made of FiberForce plastic lumber and are surrounded by a fence of pickets. Some of those planks bear the names of $35 donors, others have a few lines of poetry routed into them. The team also sold naming rights to individual play structures, from treehouses to lighthouses.

Two boats - a tug and a clipper ship - heave alongside one another, racing for the picket fence with a whale astern. People asked Linda Bird why she went for boats, instead of a train like the ones rolling between the golf course and the Sound.

She and the planners did not presume to know what kids want. Instead, they held charettes where they listened to children.

“The kids said, ‘No. We want two boats, so we can have battles,’” Bird said.

To the designers’ delight and surprise, one history-rich kid asked for a Galloping Gertie wriggling walkway. Planners hadn’t connected that bit of history to the playground in sight of the Tacoma Narrows. Gertie was an instant in.

Linda Bird mobilized her heart out, but fretted there would not be enough volunteers for last week’s volunteer construction blitz.

She needn’t have.

On the first day, the response overwhelmed the registration system.

Anna Lively scheduled her civic duty stint for that day.

“I came out to do a few hours Monday and haven’t left,” she said. “We are having so much fun.”

That was the attitude with the 400 to 500 volunteers who showed up every day. They wanted to keep working as long as there was light.

But nightfall is coming earlier every evening. Meaning no disrespect to the workings of the universe, the Livelys staved off the darkness.

“My husband and I brought tons of lights,” she said of the strands that every evening lit the site. “We have to turn them off at night to get everyone out of here.”

“There’s a job for everyone,” said Debbie Severe, who got a wagon and appointed herself site Hydrator in Chief.

“I can’t pound a straight nail,” she said. “But I can run water.”

Young children spent one day painting the pine cones for the tree houses in the handicap-accessible park designed with a Puget Sound theme.

Construction pros led teams and loaned tools. Novices learned to use power drills and saws. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, church members and students took on the muscle jobs, hauling timbers and mulch, and asking for more.

Churches, restaurants and ordinary people fed and fed and fed some more. Starbucks and Forza waged a friendly coffee war.

Caffeine. Computers. Community.

They all worked together, and, Sunday at 6 p.m., building was over, the inspection complete.

Hundreds of children inaugurated the Playground by the Sound - and played by the rules.

Read the complete story at The News Tribune
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