The Vashon Senior Center has started a fundraiser to include more senior and ADA friendly exercise equipment at Ober Park as part of the Vashon Park District’s plan to re-develop it.
After the district received a $175,000 Youth and Amateur Sports Grant from King County to realize the project earlier this year — welcomed by commissioners while falling short of the full award amount of $250,000 — the district began looking for alternatives for how to fully realize a vision of a park made for everyone.
“That $75,000 shortfall required us to really scale back our opportunity to do what we need to do,” said Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford in a recent interview with The Beachcomber.
King County Parks funded 36 projects this year for a total of $2.4 million in grants for sports and recreation programs to capital project improvements and upgrades. Some 200 applicants submitted proposals this grant cycle, requesting more than $13 million in support.
The limited funds for the project at Ober meant dropping one of the planned exercise stations from the design of the park, which commissioners have imagined would be installed around a newly created trail circling the perimeter of the playground. Ott-Rocheford said the equipment is sophisticated and as such comes at a hefty price tag.
That’s where the senior center comes in, now selling raffle tickets at a cost of $50 through Valentine’s Day for a week’s stay on an Amsterdam houseboat called “True Love,” donated by islanders CC Stone and Andrew Niss, plus $2,500 for travel costs.
Tickets are available at the Vashon Park District and senior center.
Playgrounds for the elderly aren’t an entirely new concept. According to the BBC, Chinese seniors are the largest demographic using playground and exercise equipment in parks and playgrounds in that country. Other cities have started to catch on, motivated to keep their aging population healthier longer.
“We just don’t have the facility to provide a lot of exercise opportunities for older adults, and so this seemed really wonderful, particularly because once the exercise equipment is in place, that provides a free opportunity for people to get in their physical activity,” said Susie Kalhorn, senior center board president.
She noted that Zumba is offered twice a week at the center, as is yoga or chair yoga, and Tai Chi at Ober Park. But in annual surveys, members have asked for additional recreation opportunities that would not be possible for the senior center to provide.
Kalhorn said once the senior center board gave its support of the fundraiser, she began having conversations with older people and grandparents who said they would love to be able to use the park with their children and grandchildren, providing for some intergenerational socializing.
“Older adults on the island, they can get really isolated. If you have places where people can gather and do things together I think it’s a real benefit,” she said, adding that so far, more than 60 raffle tickets have been sold. The senior center’s goal is to sell 500.
The existing playground at Ober Park has begun to show its age. Last year, the district installed two new slides to address compliance and safety concerns identified by staff. The original play structure is 17 years old and has been cited numerous times for rotting posts, drainage issues and possible liability concerns as the equipment has degraded over the years.
Ott-Rocheford said the playground project will be the district’s most significant capital project of 2020. Work is scheduled to begin in the fall so as not to interfere with school breaks or good weather. The district also needs to have the proper permits in place before it can proceed with the project, and the months ahead will allow the district to participate in a separate grant program with a major playground manufacturer for purchasing equipment.
“They have really cool play systems; it would be really neat to do a bang up job for a playground with minimal funding from us,” said Ott-Rocheford.
For her part, Kalhorn is enthusiastic about the growing awareness of senior-friendly playgrounds and their merits. She noted that a recent AARP bulletin highlighted one in Florida.
“It’s clearly catching on,” she said.