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Hart Park playground wins approval

Project already is over budget

Aug. 3, 2011

A dugout canoe, log balance beams and a climbing tree are among the features kids will have the opportunity to play on next spring when the Hart Park playground opens.

The Common Council on Tuesday approved spending $921,000 on playground equipment and site infrastructure, as well as a contract with local construction firm Selzer-Ornst.

The playground design, which celebrates "presettlement Wauwatosa," originates from the master plan for improvements to Hart Park as a whole, architect Ed Haydin said.

The Menomonee Riverwas used by Native Americans to travel to the valley. The playground design incorporates natural materials and colors, and items like logs, a sand pit and limestone.

Inclusive structures

One play area with a limestone reef concept will target children ages 2 to 5, Haydin said. A council rock, balance beams and sand pit with imprints of the fossils on the bottom - letting kids simulate an archeological dig - are some of the amenities. Kids can climb on a dugout canoe and large hollowed-out logs. The logs will be tall enough that children in wheelchairs can roll through them.

In keeping with a goal of barrier-free accessibility, people in wheelchairs can roll along a ramp to the back of the play area that serves kids ages 5 to 12. There they can reach a deck 8 feet above ground and follow an elevated path that will give them views of the river, park and nearby Rotary Performance Pavilion.

For able-bodied children, there are plenty of ways to climb up to the bridge and slide down. The bridge ends in a large tree with an eagle's nest climber.

A splash pad - a feature at which users can press a button to make water shoot up through jets in the ground - will link the two play areas.

Over budget

With the project cost coming in more than $254,000 over budget, Mayor Jill Didier questioned the need for so many features.

"First and foremost, a playground has got to go in," she said. "But the project and playground could be put in for less money. We may be doing a little bit more than we need to on this particular part of the build-out of the park."

For instance, a water feature may not be necessary now that the Tosa Pool has opened at Hoyt Park.

The splash pad likely accounts for about $20,000 of the project cost, Public Works Director Bill Porter said.

Taking more time to investigate pricing options would hold up construction and it's possible a new round of bids would only come in higher, he said.

Alderman Brian Ewerdt, the opposition in a 12-1 council vote, said he thinks the price is too steep and he doesn't like taking money from other projects that will have to be funded in the future. Funding for the playground will now come from $115,000 allocated for road improvements to Capitol Drive, a shared project with Milwaukee that is progressing more slowly than anticipated. A $40,000 increase in the 2011 bond issue also is planned.

Source of pride

Alderman Craig Wilson said the "horse trading" is unfortunate, but there had been a chance to consider other options when the project was discussed in committee. By removing a picnic shelter and some other amenities and choosing the lowest bid, the council tried to be frugal.

"Wauwatosa is a city of recreation. We all take pride in Hart Park," Wilson said.

The playground will complement the $1 million performance pavilion donated by the local Rotary, Alderman Dennis McBride said.

Families have been waiting for the playground, he added.

The mayor apologized that the playground hadn't already been installed and said she "has been one of biggest advocates of finishing Hart Park."

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