Opinion

Where every Renton child has a right to play | EDITOR'S NOTE

I don’t usually take up this space two issues in a row, but I had to make an exception this week to congratulate the city, school district and the citizens of Renton on the opening of what may be the finest playground I have ever seen.

This past weekend, Mayor Denis Law and school Superintendent Merri Rieger officially opened the Meadow Crest Playground, located half on city land and half on district land near the new Meadow Crest Learning Center.

The playground is designed to be inclusive, which means that there are no barriers or restrictions to children with any sort of disabilities, but the truth is you would never know that.

Which is why it is so great.

For my entire life, the Playground By Which All Playgrounds Will Be Judged was located at Mayfair Elementary School, a block away from my grandmother’s house in Northeast Philadelphia. It was an old-school playground (literally, now that I think about it) with a metal spiral slide, various assorted monkey bars, lots of swings, this weird spaceship climbing thing and a few other pieces of equipment, all sitting on thin rubber mats atop a blacktopped schoolyard.

I loved that playground.

But even with the Instagram-filtered haze of nostalgia, my beloved childhood playground does not hold a candle to this project. With distinct but interconnected play areas for children of all ages and abilities, the city and the school district have created a place that’s fun for everyone.

Shoot, at the grand opening Saturday, the parents who weren’t taking their little ones down the slide looked envious of those who were. It’s THAT good a playground.

Even the Blue Thunder drumline was seen playing on the equipment this weekend, and not just on the climbing parts. The guys and gals from Blue Thunder unsurprisingly made their way to the musical and percussion section of the playground and could be seen recreating some of their music, using pieces of the equipment!

How cool is that?

And aside from the bright, colorful fun of the Meadow Crest Playground, the project itself is just fantastic. It really shows what can happen when a community comes together for a common goal.

Seeing the playground today, it’s hard to imagine what it looked like just a year ago. At that time, it was actually two separate playgrounds – a city playground and a school district playground – divided by a fence.

I was talking to City Councilman Randy Corman at the grand opening and he was saying that when he used to bring his kids to play at this spot, they would have to leave one playground and walk around the fence to get to equipment just a few feet away.

But on Saturday, his granddaughter had free run of the full one-acre facility, happily going from toy to toy with no restrictions.

That is only possible because the city and the school district came together and decided what was best for the community was not to hold tight to their own chunks of land but to create an interlocal agreement and work together.

Then, the community pitched in to help pay for the $2.3 million project. The city and school district each contributed, of course, but they weren’t the only ones.

Besides the city and Renton School District, the biggest contributors were the Renton Community Foundation’s George Custer Fund, First Financial Northwest Foundation, Rotary Club of Renton, King County (Youth Sports Facilities Grant), Seattle Seahawks, Renton Housing Authority, Renton Lions Club, Fairwood Lions Club, Soroptimists International (of Renton), Renton Technical College, and the Renton Kiwanis Club.

Every one of those groups deserves our praise and our thanks, as does every individual who gave to the cause.

But if there is one person to acknowledge individually for their efforts on this project, it is Terry Higashiyama, City of Renton Community Services Administrator.

Terry has been the public face of the new playground since it was proposed. She has been out beating the bushes for money, involved in the design and found ways to keep this project alive, even through some lean years. At the ribbon cutting, in fact, the mayor joked that even while running a large and important department within City Hall, Terry often seemed to be the “Inclusive Playground Administrator” because of her dedication.

So let me say this as a Renton resident: thank you Terry. This playground reflects the best of this city, as well as what can happen when public and private entities pull together for the common good. You made us ALL look good with this one.

Seriously, get your kids over to this playground. They will love it. The agreement between the city and the district means that during the day, the gate to the sidewalk is locked while the gate to the school is open; but after school and on weekends, that switches so the gate to the school is locked and the main, public gate is open.

The guiding principle behind the project was simple enough: “Every child has the right to play.”

Now they have a place.

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