In just a few weeks, the Hoyt-Sullivan Playground on Central Street will be undergoing major renovations.
The playground was last renovated in 1995 after the community pooled their resources to cover a portion of the funding.
“There’s a real community spirit about this park,” said Director of Parks and Open Space Arn Franzen.
Franzen said the new design will feature more compartmentalized areas designed for specific age groups and uses, better lighting and visibility and a more natural playground environment.
Catering to a younger age group
When designing a park, said Franzen, the team often thinks about the specific needs associated with the space. Given the amount of day cares in the area, Franzen immediately focused on younger children.
“From the very beginning we sort of had that (age group) in the back of our mind,” he said. “We wanted to think about that 2-5 age group.”
The city hired the Klopfer Martin Design Group (KMDG) to help design the park because of the company’s involvement with the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, a program dedicated to transforming asphalt lots to dynamic recreation spaces. KMDG has extensive experience with playgrounds, outdoor classroom spaces, etc., said Franzen, and were strong candidates.
As it stands, Hoyt Playground is very compartmentalized, with areas for specific age groups and activities. Franzen said the team liked that idea and played with it, keeping areas in tact but bringing them together through more open space, hills and a pathway stretching across the space.
“You don’t have to worry about big kids hurrying the little kids, but we pulled the flow of the park together,” he said. “We put in a circulation path that the little kids would really appreciate, with up-and-down hills where they can ride their scooters or trikes.”
The basketball court will be cut in half and include two hoops, one full-sized for older visitors and a shorter one for younger visitors.
And since so many young children frequent the park, residents suggested adding a balcony overlooking the railroad tracks. Often times, said Franzen, kids call the playground “train-go-by park” or “railroad park,” so the department wanted to play with that idea.
The balcony will be a on the right side of the park near the entrance. With the Green Line Extension on the horizon and the community path, the balcony will be a fun lookout for the park, he said.
“(The GLX) is a green spine that connects all of these parks in Somerville along the way,” said Franzen, pointing to Somerville Junction and connections to Somerville High School. “All of these sort of green spaces tie into it…. It’s sort of cool.”
Safety and security concerns
When planning the design, community members raised various concerns about the security of the park. As it stands, he said, there is limited visibility of inside the park from the street.
“This is a place where kids would gather back here and we don’t know exactly what would happen, but stuff was reported,” said Franzen. “With a darker corner (in the back)…it makes it difficult to see into the park.”
Some people, he said, who are unfamiliar with the park may be discouraged from visiting when they see there is only one entrance and so much shade. With the redesign, there will be much more visibility and lighting.
Though the city is trying to keep the current tree canopy intact, there are a handful of dying or dead trees that will be removed from the middle and sides of the park. Franzen said the city will plant the same amount, if not more, after removal, but they will be in different areas so the space isn’t crowded.
Instead of having the play structures near the entrance, the redesigned park will feature the sitting area closer to the front.
And because Central Street is such a busy area, there will be gates and fences around the perimeter of the park so children can’t run onto the street.
In renovation projects throughout the city, the number one goal is environmental sustainability.
“We’re trying to make these really active spaces, and make a place attractive,” said Franzen. “It has to be something that really draws people to it….We’re trying to get kids off of their screens or find a place for parents to bring their kids.”
The majority of the existing tree canopy and the beech tree will be preserved during renovations.
In the new plans there will be a wood deck surrounding the beech tree, protecting the base and the roots.
However, there are a handful of trees that need to be removed because they are decaying.
“When we’re done, we’ll plant a lot more trees than were here to begin with, and they’ll be healthier trees of the right species,” he said.
The trees will all be native species, as will most, if not all, of the ground shrubs and covers.
As for safety features and designs, rather than using rubber, the city will be using bark mulch, which is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“The only rubber safety surface we’re keeping is on the slopes,” he said.
With the bark mulch there is little to no erosion, even when kids are playing on it, said Franzen, and its water permeable. With the exception of the basketball court, all surfaces will in fact be permeable.
And instead of metal play structures, the park will be home to a new line of wood structures. After getting approval from the Mayor’s Office, the city will be using black locust wood, which gives the space a more natural feel, similar to the Cambridge Commons.
“They’re actually very long-lasting and don’t have the problems of constructed wood play structures,” said Franzen.
Franzen said he is hoping to finish the park by late fall and said it’s is shaping up to be the best in the city.
“Every time we do a new park, we think it’s the best park in the city and it usually is,” he said. “I think this is going to be the newest and the best park in the city.”