Big dreams for Big Howe: Architects submit plan for improvements to aging rec area

Queen Anne residents are dreaming of an inviting outdoor space where the community can gather for years to come. The dream may become reality if local activists can raise enough money to rebuild the aging Big Howe Playground, located in the northwest corner of West Queen Anne Playfield, on Howe Street and Third Avenue West.

On Jan. 13, more than 30 neighbors attended a public meeting at the Queen Anne Community Center to view the final master plan of the proposed improvements. The plan calls for new landscaping and updating or replacing some outdated and potentially unsafe play equipment with safer alternatives that would appeal to all ages from toddlers to 12-year-olds.

"There were some near incidences," said concerned parent and activist Eleni Ledesma. "One child hit his head on the compacted sand from the slide."

Ledesma and others formed the Big Howe Improvement Project (B-HIP) in December 2003 with the goal of revamping the playground to make it safer and more accessible to the surrounding community. Big Howe is one of the most heavily used parks in the area, and the improvements would benefit many, organizers remarked.

To launch the project, B-HIP secured a $15,000 Small & Simple grant from the Department of Neighborhoods to jump-start initial design and planning of the project. The final master plan is the culmination of several planning meetings, with input from the com-munity, steering committees and the Seattle Parks Department.

As representatives from Barker Landscape Architects unveiled their final architectural renderings, many at the meeting expressed satisfaction.

The sketches showed a peaceful, rolling green landscape with shade trees, picnic areas and a chess table.

"I'm overwhelmed by how beau-tiful this is," remarked one woman. "It's inspiring to look at."

Another woman stated she loved the playground's "Craftsman style" gateway and natural rock features.

"I think it captures all the greatest features from the earlier designs," said Will Jennings, a fifth-grader at John Hay Elementary School. "It'll be the perfect park." Jennings was particularly pleased with the Zipline, or cable glider feature.

Architect Page Crutcher emphasized that the playground would comply with ADA (American Disabilities Act) standards and will include new rubber and woodchip surfacing to increase safety and drainage.

"The challenge is providing a playground that is both safe and exciting to children," remarked Crutcher.

With the project's initial phase almost finished, the group's biggest hurdle is coming up with the $350,000 estimated for the park's construction once the city's Parks Department approves the final design.

Though the sum may seem lofty, Crutcher emphasized that "it's not unusual for this kind of a park." The most expensive items will be the stone walls and patio areas as well as the asphalt and rubber surfacing. In addition, there will be some drainage and irrigation work as well as upgraded lights.

So far, the group has raised $14,000: $2,000 from the Queen Anne Branch of HomeStreet Bank and $7,000 gathered to match a $5,000 contribution from an anonymous donor.

Don Harper, B-HIP co-chair, suggested that all they need is $200,000 to get it going.

"Starting a project like this is like trying to start a long train," Harper remarked. "It takes a while to [get going], but pretty soon it's rolling."

Architects estimated that the improved playground would take two to four years to reach completion once construction begins.

Eleni Ledesma and others look forward to its official opening. "Our intention is to have a central playground that will welcome all generations," Ledesma said.

Friends, community members and angel donors are encouraged to donate via check or through Pay Pal at (donations are tax-deductible).

Organizers also welcome those who can contribute their time in fundraising, grant writing and labor. To get involved, contact info@

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