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Jeff Clemetson | Editor

La Mesita Park has a new playground — as new a playground as it gets.

“This is the first Modern City to be installed in the world,” said Tom Norquist, senior vice president of PlayCore, the designers of the new Modern City playground product line.

Shellece Gunnell and her son Jason enjoy a slide on the new Modern City playground in La Mesita Park. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

Norquist along with city officials and representatives of La Mesa Park and Recreation Foundation officially cut the ribbon on the new playground equipment at La Mesita Park on Jan. 15.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Mark Arapostathis thanked the private-public partnership that made the new equipment possible and also pointed out why playgrounds are important.

“There is an important reason we are upgrading this playground, mainly because of children’s health,” he said and cited statistics from Centers for Disease Control that show that 20 percent of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese. “And while the fix for this problem is multi-pronged and complicated, there is no question that having […] parks is the first step in encouraging weight-losing physical activity.”

The mayor, who has also been a teacher for many years, also praised the striking design of the new playground.

“I’ve been around lots of playground equipment and nothing looks like this,” he said. “It’s unusual looking. It’s inviting. It’s structurally unique to the playground experience. It’s made for children to explore. It challenges their minds and challenges them physically. It works for all levels, for children as young as 5 all the way up to 15, there is something for them to interact with on this.”

Norquist further explained the design elements of the new equipment as well as some of the thought process that went into making the Modern City product line.

“We wanted to have something where form is primary. We wanted to have a striking look to it,” he said. “It’s tall, it’s got these beautiful castings that your eyes go to. You see these X shapes in the design so it’s very attractive. And then we loaded it with play value. Every single upright support has multiple opportunities for play.”

The Modern City playground has three different areas. One is for preschool-aged children; a larger playground is for bigger kids; and there is also a separate swing set area.

“We moved [the swings] over to the side so nobody runs into the people while they are swinging. So from a safety standpoint, it’s a really great design,” Norquist said.

The swing set also includes some new designs such as special swings for children with disabilities; a special “bird’s nest” swing that can hold multiple children at the same time; and “expression swings” that allow parents to be face to face with their child.

The new playground features equipment designed for preschool-aged children. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

Bringing adults into the playground was a priority in the design of the playground, Norquist said.

“It might be one of the most inviting playgrounds in the world in terms of intergenerational play. The parents are actively in the play area with their children rather than sitting on the benches looking at their phones,” he said, later adding that the open-air architecture is what allows for the high visibility and easy interaction between parents and children. “The one thing that is so fantastic about this is the way the parent can actually get in and coach and work with their children as they go through the actual playground and reach in and touch them, guide them and help them.”

Funding for the new playground came from what Norquist described as a “generous partnership” between PlayCore and the La Mesa Park and Recreation Foundation. PlayCore worked with the foundation to help fund the equipment and also help with the installation, at a total cost of around $250,000.

The La Mesita Park renovation is the latest achievement of La Mesa Park and Recreation Foundation’s It’s Child’s Play initiative, which has already helped improve playgrounds at three other city parks — Jackson, Northmont and Vista La Mesa. The initiative was started with a goal to raise $1 million in order to improve five local parks, said La Mesa Park and Recreation Foundation President John Fonseca. La Mesita was the fourth and Collier Park will be the final park to be upgraded.

Fonseca said La Mesita Park took a precedence in getting its upgrade because it “lent itself to being ADA compatible and it was the easiest to get done in a timely manner.

“This got done in six months, which is kind of unheard of in terms of the city,” he added.

In addition to improving playgrounds, the foundation also helps fund general maintenance of parks like installing sidewalks and improving signage as well as putting on events at parks like science fairs and free outdoor movies. The foundation is funded through private donations as well as an annual fundraising event, La Mesa Rocks, which has raised over $100,000 in the last three years, Fonseca said.

After the It’s Child’s Play initiative is complete, the foundation will be focusing its attention on helping build and shape MacArthur Park.

“I would love to see a new community center there in the next 10 years,” Fonseca said. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but our goal is to make that the central park of La Mesa.”

—Reach Jeff Clemetson at

Source: La Mesa Currier

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