A focus group considering the future of the Jacobson Park playground has reached a consensus that it would be best to get rid of the old playground and let the community design a new one.
That coincides with the recommendation of Marc Leathers, whose father designed the playground, built with volunteer labor in 1993.
Leathers, president of the nationally recognized playground design firm Leathers & Associates, assessed the playground last month and found that while the city had done a good job of maintaining the sprawling wooden structure, it had "many minor maintenance and safety compliance issues." Renovations would cost an estimated $175,000.
"Considering the age of the structure and the estimated budget to do a good renovation, serious consideration (should) be given to replacing with a new playground," Leathers wrote in a report.
The city budget includes $300,000 for replacing the playground.
Brad Chambers, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, said the city had several options, including having parks employees design a new playground, as was originally the plan, or contracting with Leathers or another company to help.
Either way, community input will be key, he said.
Chambers said the community-led process that created the playground worked once, resulting in an attraction for generations of children.
"Let's do the same thing again and see what the community wants now," he said.
The focus group was convened after parents mobilized in opposition to the plan to tear down the playground.
It includes representatives of LexCreate: Save Jacobson and Shillito Park Playgrounds; representatives of the Mayor's Commission for Citizens with Disabilities and of Partners for Youth; and former council member Sandy Shafer, who spearheaded efforts to build the Jacobson Park and Shillito Park play structures.
She said Monday that the new playground's look would be "a community decision because it's a community-built project."
"It's taxpayer dollars, and I'd like to see the process continue so that the community is satisfied with what replaces the playground."
While meeting notes indicate the majority of focus group members approved of a "clean slate" approach to the rebuild, Chris Dotson, a parent who represents LexCreate, said he would like to see the "core" part of the playground — the towerlike structures with mazes, stairs and platforms — rebuilt with plastic and tweaked for safety and compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
If the core structure is taken down, he said, "we have serious concerns that what we really love about that playground, what our kids really love about that playground ... would be lost.
"I'm confident that we'll come to some sort of agreement in the end."
Shafer said Friends of Parks of Fayette County, the nonprofit she founded to help facilitate the construction of the Jacobson and Shillito playgrounds, is ready to help with the redo.
"We're going to hit the ball out of the park when we redo this playground," she said.