Addison, 3, and her baby brother Brayden Peterkin, 1, sat motionless on a swing set unable to push each other as their short legs dangled helplessly suspended four feet from the ground.
After their mother Nicole Peterkin fastened them safely side-by-side in the swings, the two looked dazed and sleepy with their heads down.
Meanwhile, about 16 children of varying ages ran around the sand, climbed and jumped on the multi-colored play area at Municipal Park on a sunny Thursday in the early evening – a peak time after school but before dinner time. Elementary school-aged girls swung around on the tire swing while a small group of younger boys and girls went down the red and yellow slides and jumped up and down on the bridge.
The lack of a toddler play area at Municipal Park has caused a group of Kenai moms to take their young children to playgrounds in Nikiski and Soldotna, despite living minutes from the largest community park in town.
Kenai resident Amber Every, 34, who has two kids, Gracee, 5, and Cooper, 4, has been actively involved with the City of Kenai Parks and Recreation commission on a proposal that would develop a new playground for children ages 2-5, and replace the aging 5-12 year-old playground equipment that is more than 20 years old.
“We’re hoping to force the council to come up with a long term final vision because this is a neat location,” Amber Every said after she spoke at the Kenai City Council meeting on May 7. “We definitely need (a new playground) in our own city.”
Along with her sister-in-law Kristin Every and friends Angie Cramer and Peterkin, Amber Every first approached the city about the need to upgrade equipment at Municipal Park last year. She said her hope is that the city will complete the park rather than add random play features that do not target the specific age group that utilizes the park.
She said the only equipment suitable for toddlers is the set of swings that seem out of place between the sandy playground area and the uneven grassy field. A ball wall situated on the paved path in close proximity to the restrooms also seems out of place, she said.
“We have to get the kids outside and away from TV and put down electronics,” she said. “We’re constantly trying to get our kids exercise playing outdoors in the nice weather.”
The city council previously discussed the construction of a playground for 2-5 year-olds during a Feb. 5 meeting and gave direction to Kenai City Manager Rick Koch to select equipment for $50,000 with a total proposed budget of $120,000. In April, Koch presented a proposal to the parks and recreation commission for the recommendation of a contract awarded to Sitelines Parks and Playground Products for three sets of equipment that would cost $40,000, not including installation.
Meanwhile, the group of Kenai moms met at Amber Every’s house one night in early spring planned options for an enclosed toddler play area and new 5-12 age playground. The group attended the parks and recreation work session on April 15 and shared two proposals. The preferred option A, named “Kenai Enchanted Forest” has 10 pieces of equipment , a sound station, natural discovery play house, arch swing, seesaw, merry go-round and several other features with a projected cost of more than $91,000, shipping and installation included.
Amber Every said the moms that frequent multiple parks in the central peninsula were well attuned to facility needs. Parks in Homer, Seward as well as Soldotna Creek Park and Farnsworth Park all have unique themes, she said.
“We knew what we wanted and what our kids would use,” she said. “We also had to be budget conscience and took the $50,000 into consideration. Our hope was to find pieces to blend all age groups, not just ages 2-5. We felt the green color theme forest would match the parks location (surrounded by trees.)”
Kenai Parks and Recreation commission members All Hull and Ryan Tunseth presented the “Enchanted Forest” plan to the city council on April 16 and at a May 1 commission meeting, passed a resolution in support of the proposal. Tunseth said he felt the moms’ plan was the best going forward because it would complete the park and replace the older equipment.
“Rather than do the toddler portion now and have to finish the 5-12 year-old playground a year later, while we are there doing site work it makes sense to get it all done at once,” he said. “Then we can focus our time and energy on other parks that need attention.”
During his report at the May 7 council meeting, Koch asked the council for direction on how to proceed with Municipal Park after the parks and recreation commission passed the resolution. After 45 minutes of discussion, all the council members agreed to take a step back from administration’s original plans, gather more information from the public through another work session and come up with a solution to complete the park that would benefit all residents.
Council member Terry Bookey, council member and parks and recreation council liaison, said up until May 7, he had a completely different vision for Municipal Park. After hearing from Amber Every, Bookey said it would be wise to take a step back and hold another work session to ensure the public is involved in the process before the city moves forward.
Koch estimated if the city proceeded with option A, it would cost upwards of $200,000 with an estimated installation time in the spring of 2015. Ordering equipment would take about seven weeks, assuming money could be set aside in the fiscal year 2015 budget. Right now the city doesn’t have any money set aside for new playground equipment so the earliest the park could be completed would be next spring, he said.
“Administration will handle the (Municipal Park) project from here on out,” Koch said. “We worked on one plan for seven months and now everyone has fallen in love with (the Enchanted Forest).”
Council member Ryan Marquis said the council was fortunate to get input from people who use the park before they made a decision.
“What we’re looking at didn’t really reflect the needs of the people that use the park,” he said. “It makes sense to hold off until construction season 2015 and make sure what we put in there is something that doesn’t surprise everyone and has the best amount of buy in.”
Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said she likes the from the moms’ plan and said she will work with council member Tim Navarre to seek out partnerships from corporations and local businesses in the area to help finance the playground upgrades.
“We are concentrating on Municipal Park to make that a park everyone wants to go to and has more equipment than any of our others neighborhood parks,” she said. “I would like to see us do what other communities in Nikiski and Soldotna have done; start with a park and finish it. We live in a great community with great support. Hopefully we can come up with a playground everyone will love.”
Amber Every said her friends and family still frequent Municipal Park and every year hold an Easter egg hunt there as well as utilize the space for barbecues. She said she thinks the council is moving in the right direction.
“I would like to see a clean, simple neighborhood park with a cohesive plan,” she said. “Let’s get the ball rolling.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org