Sprayground breaking: Forest Hills Park project underway
After years of discussions and planning, major improvements to Forest Hills Park, located off Cherry Avenue, are finally becoming a reality. The $1.2 million project was put on hold by City Council last fall, due to budget concerns, but according to Parks & Rec director Brian Daly they were able to piece together funding earlier this year to update the 7.35-acre neighborhood park, the first such improvements in over half a century.
Indeed, Daly says the park’s existing wading pool, which will be replaced with a fancy new “sprayground,” is over 50 years old. The last major renovation of a city park was McGuffey Park, the little 1.1-acre park and playground next door to the McGuffey Art Center on Second Street NW. That park improvement cost the city $400,000 (the total cost of the project, thanks to $300,000 in private donations, was a whopping $700,000), a price tag some felt was too high for such a small park serving a select downtown demographic. At the time, former Parks & Rec director Mike Svetz repeatedly defended the focus on the tiny McGuffey project by mentioning the plans for Forest Hills.
“It was a fun park,” says Forest Hills Neighborhood association president Jim McGinnis, who raised his kids near the park, “kind of like time traveling into the fifties because nothing was changed, but then it started to deteriorate.”
The sprayground will be an interactive water playground, which will shoot water in different directions during the hot summer months. The project also includes a new open-air pavilion, two new playground areas with new equipment, a restroom and equipment pavilion, updated basketball courts, a series of hard-surface trails, and improved landscaping.
Daly says the project is on schedule for a Spring 2010 completion date, which would have been earlier had the project not been delayed five weeks due to “unsuitable soil” beneath the wading pool and pavilion areas. Apparently, excavating crews found layers of “organic matter” three-feet down, as well as layers of clay, which made it unsuitable for construction. Fortunately, Daly says, they were able to use good soil from the Onesty Pool excavation to stabilize the ground beneath the structures.
“They’ve been talking about doing this for eons,” says McGinnis, who recalls a design plan back in 2000 that was scrapped. “It’s frustrating when it takes so long.”
On Tuesday, September 22, crews had already framed in the pavilions and were busy laying the foundation for the sprayground.
McGinnis says opinions were mixed in the neighborhood, as some residents, particularly those close to the park, worried about the increased traffic. Others liked the privacy the remote park afforded, as well as its antique feel. Some people were also upset about getting rid of the wading pool, and some kids were concerned that the new sprayground would be “lame” like the one at Belmont Park, says McGuiness.
“They’re hoping for a good one,” says McGinnis of the sprayground. According to Daly, the Forrest Hills sprayground will be much larger than the one in Belmont, 6,500-square-feet to be exact, and have more interactive features.
Overall, McGinnis says he’s been happy with the process, which included a lot of input from the neighborhood, who mainly wanted to preserve the natural setting, which includes several 200-year-old oaks. Neighbors also fought to get an enclosed building for the site, which had existed there years ago, but city planners decided on pavilion shelters instead.
“We’re curious to see how it turns out,” says McGinnis, who can’t help but wax nostalgic about the old park.
“They used to have these great things called “spaceships,” where kids could climb up inside them,” recalls McGinnis, “but they decided they were dangerous and took them down several years ago.”