Fayette County

New Jacobson Park playground bigger, includes musical public arts project

Cameron Roach jumped back and forth among the three electric green pipes at the end of the sidewalk at Lexington’s Jacobson Park.

Depending on how close or far away he was, the sounds from the three pipes changed.

“It’s cool,” Roach said Tuesday at the opening of the new Jacobson playground that includes Livestream, a musical public arts project that uses data from Kentucky waterways to create music.

Artists, Lexington city officials, parents and dozens of kids gathered Tuesday at the park off Richmond Road to celebrate the grand opening of the new playground and Livestream, the largest eco-public art installation in the city.

The old, maze-like wooden playground that has been in the park since the 1990s was torn down last winter to make way for a new playground that includes various play areas including an area designed specifically for kids under 2, a first for a Lexington park, said Monica Conrad, Lexington’s Parks and Recreation director, at Tuesday’s grand opening.

The new park has several areas connected by paths using compressed rubber. That makes it easier for kids and adults with physical disabilities to access the playground. The previous wooden structure was not handicap-accessible.

Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield, whose district includes the park and who was instrumental in getting the $490,000 project funded, said the old Jacobson playground was very popular. But the new playground may be even more popular because everyone can use it.

“I am proud of the commitment of the Lexington Parks and Recreation department in creating a playground that is inclusive for everyone,” Scutchfield said.

The playground was designed by Lexington-based Element Design, following a process in which the city sought input from various stakeholders, including hundreds of children in the after-school programs offered by Parks and Recreation. In addition to new playgrounds, the design incorporated the old wooden structure using wood from that playground to create a feature called “Two Towers.”

Several parents had protested the demolition and replacement of the old, wooden playground structure. Many said the wood structure was unique and offered more play options than modern playground equipment. The city has said it needed to demolish the structure because it was costly to maintain, a safety hazard and was not handicap-accessible.

Conrad said that wood from the old playground was also re-purposed and used for signs and other design elements throughout the park. David Williams and Associates supplied and installed the play equipment and specialty safety surfacing. Woodall Construction did the general construction on the playground.

The new playground encompasses the area taken up by the old playground and some of the surrounding area. It is now Lexington’s largest playground.

Geoff Reed, Mayor Jim Gray’s acting chief of staff and commissioner of general services, said a new spray ground — which uses water features that kids can play in— is also slated for the site. Construction on the spray ground likely won’t start until next summer, he said.

Livestream, the public art project, is the brainchild of the Public Works Collaborative. The team includes founder and designer Kiersten Nash; musician Ben Sollee; engineer Sean Montgomery; public artist Bland Hoke; educator Dan Marwit; and fabricator Jon Pope.

Using data from the Kentucky Geological Survey, Sollee translated data points from Kentucky waterways into notes. The opening of the pipes have sensors in them. If someone approaches the opening of the pipe, the notes will begin to play, Nash said.

“The closer to the pipe, the higher the volume,” Nash explained Tuesday. If more than one person approaches the various green pipes, different noises at different volumes come from the structure, Nash said.

The project was commissioned by LexArts and the city’s Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works, and funded in part by a $40,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant, said Nathan Zamarron, community art director for LexArts.

“There will be additional educational content going forward,” Zamarron said. “We are hoping that school groups can come here and learn more about surface water.”

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall