By Randy Arrington
LURAY — For the past quarter of a century, the imagination of thousands of children has grown and explored on a small pile of lumber in a popular town park.
But the wear and tear of the years has taken its toll on this wooden structure, and the cost to maintain it are mounting.
“It’s becoming a maintenance nightmare,” superintendent of Luray’s Parks and Recreation Department Dakota Baker said recently. “We’re spending a lot of time and money annually on maintaining it.”
Imagination Station first opened at what is now Ralph H. Dean Recreation Park in 1993 as part of the spread of playgrounds designed by Robert Leathers of Ithaca, N.Y. Many examples of the three or four designs produced by Playgrounds by Leathers in the early and mid-1990s can be seen across the region and across the country. Now, after reaching the end of its projected 25-year lifespan, many are being replaced.
“The swings are starting to come apart and are cracking,” Baker noted among other problems. She reported to the Luray Council in December that the town was receiving complaints as well.
“We started to weigh how much it costs to maintain it versus replacing it altogether, and replacing it seems like it may be the best option,” Baker said, “and then we’ll get another 25 years out of it.”
In October 2014, the town spent $10,000 and joined forces with more than 100 community volunteers to rejuvenate Imagination Station. Baker also noted that the town pays to have the wooden structure stained annually to maintain its appearance.
The parks superintendent would not release an estimated cost for the replacement of Imagination Station due to the nature of RFPs issued by the town in mid-January. She said that specific criteria was outlined in the request for bids, and now they will wait and see what comes back from contractors.
The plan is for full replacement of the wooden structure and its surrounding components; however, some portions of the playground may be utilized at other sites, such as pocket parks around town.
The style will remain the same, but with new features. Some of those features will encourage adults to play alongside their children, such as “big” and “little” side-by-side swings. Other elements will serve special needs children and meet with ADA compliance.
The deadline for bids is Friday, Feb. 14.
Funding from the Page County Alliance for Community Action will potentially help fund a portion of the project. PACA receives grant funds over a three-year period from Health Communities Action Teams in the amount of $30,000 per year. A portion of those funds helped build fitness stations along the Hawksbill Greenway in 2018 and 2019. A new three-year grant starts July 1.
Pending council approval of the project and funding deliberations during May budget sessions, a new Imagination Station could be in place by the end of the year. Along with some of the changes planned, Baker assures the public that one thing will definitely remain the same about this community icon.
“We will not change the name,” Baker said. “We will not go back with wood. The new one will be more metal and plastic, but the name and the feel will remain the same. We want something that will blend in with the natural aesthetics of this park.”