A Whale of a Good Time; Building a Natural Playground in Methuen

We have been working on a fun project in Methuen this year.  The Greater Lawrence Community Action Council (GLCAC) has built a new pre-school facility under the Head Start program.  Radner Design was called into action to design a ‘natural’ playground.  The natural playground movement has been around for a few years.  Conceptually, the idea is to limit the number of expensive factory manufactured play items and allow kids to dig in the dirt, get wet, roll down hills, play in sand and generally make a mess while using their imaginations and building strength. Here is an early site plan for the play ground.  Features include a trike path, a hill for climbing up and rolling down, an old fashioned water pump that discharges to a stream, a rope swing that leads to an island, slides and climbing rocks, and a tunnel made of pussy willow whips weaved together.

Anne D'Errico, the Head Start Director, challenged me to 'find my inner child'.  So I dug deep.  The genesis of the featured climbing piece was from my own childhood.  An undeveloped park near my house had this huge rock sticking out of the ground.  About 20’ long, 6’ wide and 4’ high (or so I remember), we called it the whale rock due to its shape.  Great for climbing right?  I wanted to replicate that rock for the kids.  The GLCAC hired Joe Montroy, a sculptor from New Hampshire to create his own version of the whale rock.

He came up with the idea of casting a solid aluminum piece of art.  Art you can climb on!  Here is a You Tube video showing the aluminum pour that happened just last week.  I am particularly happy that the artist utilized reclaimed aluminum; old engine parts and window frames, from a scrap yard.  I guess that makes it a 'green' whale.  Thanks to Max Thorpe who shot and edited this piece.

August 14, 2012 update:  here are some pictures of the completed project;