After months of public input and controversy, Lexington's parks department is seeking potential designs to replace or renovate an iconic wooden playground at Jacobson Park.
Companies have until the first week of April to submit their ideas and bids, according to a request for proposals that the city released this month.
Geoff Reed, commissioner of general services and acting director of parks and recreation, said the city is open to looking at any ideas, including designs that preserve the playground.
"All options are on the table," Reed said. "We need to see what ideas are out there. But we have to move forward on this."
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City officials, groups that want to save the Jacobson playground and advocates for the disabled have met on and off for months to discuss designs and whether to replace, preserve or renovate the structure.
The wooden playground off Richmond Road and a sister playground at Shillito Park near Fayette Mall were built in the early 1990s through a citywide volunteer effort. The wooden structures with towers, turrets and mazes are unique and should be preserved, say those who object to their replacement.
But city officials and advocates for the disabled say the wooden structures are difficult to maintain. The playground isn't accessible to disabled children or to disabled parents and caregivers.
After months of discussions, the various groups could not reach a consensus.
Rachel Carpenter, who led efforts to preserve the original Jacobson Park playground through a group called LexCreate, said she is encouraged that the city's request for proposals includes the option of keeping or restoring parts of the playground.
"That's all we had asked for from the very beginning," Carpenter said.
The bid requires the company to seek community input and hold public meetings to discuss the design, Reed said.
"I am very hopeful that this process will work," Carpenter said. "There are very real concerns on all sides. If this is done well, all sides will be happy."
The Urban County Council had approved $300,000 for the playground in this year's budget.
That's one reason why the city needed to push ahead with hiring someone to design the playground, Reed said. If that money is not committed soon, the money could be allocated to another project. In recent budget discussions, some members of the Urban County Council have expressed frustration that the city's parks departments is too slow in getting projects designed and built.
Sandy Shafer, who spearheaded efforts to build the original Jacobson and Shillito play structures, said she hopes that a community or volunteer build is possible. Shafer is president of the Friends of Parks of Fayette County, the nonprofit created to build Shillito, Jacobson and other Fayette County parks.
"I want to be part of the solution," Shafer said. "I think we are taking steps to get to a final solution."
Shafer said that in the early 1990s, when volunteers built the playgrounds, everyone was on the same page: "It was not an us-versus-them. It was a we. Right now, we aren't on the same page yet. Maybe this will help us get there."