Parks board talks plans for Orono site

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

Elk River’s parks department has been pledged up to $250,000 by the City Council for replacing the 25-year-old playground structures at Orono Park, where staff says repairs have become costly to keep the equipment usable.

Parks commissioners and other concerned residents met in a work session Wednesday, Jan. 9, to study six general designs for new equipment, among which each of them leaned most favorably to three plans proposed by supplier Flagship Recreation of St. Louis Park that would use equipment from its parent company, Landscape Structures based in Delano.

Citing a move downtown for Elk River’s July 4 festivities as one major loss for Orono Park, the commissioners want to bring in fun features that would make for a “destination playground,” where families with children might plan picnics for an hour or two.

But, for those kids who will eat, food can keep their attention for only so long when there are ladders to climb. City staff and commissioners spoke with their guests this week about what the playground might need to make it worth a parent’s while for packing a basket.

Any option would include one multi-feature play structure meant for children ages 2 to 5, and a second, centerpiece structure that could hold the interest and energy of youth through age 12. Grant Desroches, Flagship Recreation president, was present for the talk Jan. 9 and said the largest structure they have considered for Orono Park — with two towers and two main access points — could accommodate up to 70 children at once. Staff said that would be good for general use, as well as for frequent visits by day-care groups from the nearby Elk River YMCA.

The new equipment might also include auxiliary features including one piece, a “Sway Fun” glider, which children with disabilities could access with wheelchairs. Another separate piece, which Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hecker described as a “spinning Christmas tree” based on its shape and intended motion, could be Elk River’s second in a city park since there is one now available at Highlands West.

Commissioner Guenther Sagan said the city should include plenty of benches in the Orono Park project for parents and grandparents who would accompany the children. Desroches showed video of adults using stair climbers and other exercise equipment that his company added to a Buffalo park five years ago. “That makes a park more multi-generational, along with benches,” he said.

Asked about their winter maintenance, Desroches said stair climbers run on hydraulic cylinders and must be operated at times year-round, either by staff or park users. “Once you get it moving, it becomes more viscous,” he said.

Among other moving features, anyone and everyone can use swings in a park. “To me, that’s where you’re going to keep the kids a long time,” said Hecker. “You can’t have enough swings. You really can’t.”

Some guests, including resident Andrew Hulse, president of the Lake Orono Improvement Association, said the planners should aim for aesthetics as well as accessibility and give the tops of the playground towers an “iconic” look, to draw passersby as well as residents who will have read and heard about the park. “You’ve got to attract the attention of people coming past on Highway 10 (across the lake),” Hulse said. “You want to have something tall, so people can see something special is going on there.”

The commission may make an official recommendation at its February meeting to work with Flagship Recreation and Landscape Structures on a project. Hecker reported that in the meantime, he has been invited by the teacher of his fifth-grade son at Otsego Elementary School to address those students. He plans to discuss the Orono Park playground designs to receive their input.