Meet John Dean. He was part of the team that designed the original Joey’s Park 25 years ago, and he is lead designer of the updated park today. In September John spent a day with the children of Winn Brook School talking about their ideas for a dream playground. Since then, he has been hard at work making as much of that reality as possible. We asked him some questions about the overall process; here are his answers.
Q. Do kids make good playground designers?
A. Absolutely. They make it fun, lighthearted and give the playground soul. You walk into the classroom and it’s like asking them what they want for Christmas.
Q. The kids get to watch while you sketch a playground design. Hours later, you present an initial design to the community. Do you feel pressure?
A. I do. It’s like taking the architecture exam. The kids see me during lunch and they see that it’s literally pieces of paper with scribbles all over them. It has to be a professional, real design to scale. It will be the base for the design down the line. We’ll be doing working blue prints off that design.
Q. A lot of volunteers will be needed when it comes to time to eventually build the playground. Describe what it’s like to be part of a community build.
A. It’s wow. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been doing this for so long. Volunteers feel good in their hearts. If you get volunteers there the first couple of days, they’ll come back.
Q. Will the new Joey’s Park retain the original park’s magic?
A. Absolutely. Designs have become more exciting in general, especially with input. It will have that look the original one has, it’s just going to be more exciting. We’re going to build an amazing playground.
Zip line, hill tunnel, theater-in-the-round — it’s all here
It isn’t easy to think about recreating a community treasure. We’ve taken a survey, held community input meetings, put our architecture team to the test, and – most importantly – listened to kids about what they want in the new Joey’s Park. Well, here it is: a double zip-line, merry-go-round, see-saw, hill tunnel with an embankment slide and a walking path (yes, running, skipping and jumping are allowed). We’re keeping the castle-like feel – only the towers will be a bit higher, little ones get their own separate area to explore and – while we’ll keep the look of wood – it will be made of long-lasting, low-maintenance composite material. No more splinters! By popular demand, the double-wide slide stays and so will the tires and swings. Need a rest? Take seat … in the shade. We’re adding more shade trees and seating. Performers of all ages will discover a fun new musical feature and hit the pergola-covered deck for a show … or maybe an outdoor lesson … or a party. Like the original, uses for the new Joey’s Park will be as endless as a child’s imagination.
Playground architect John Dean has a great job. He asks kids what they want in their playground. When he showed up at the Winn Brook Elementary School in September of 2012, the 450 students gave him an excited earful: zip line, curvy slide, hiding places. Of course, not every idea made it into the final blueprint: think jello floors and a hot tub. The kids’ input, however, is at the heart of the new Joey’s Park design. They watched while Dean sketched out the first ideas. They brought their parents to see the initial plan unveiled in the Winn Brook gym. Best of all, they’ll soon be playing on the park they helped design.
The day started early with a preliminary meeting at the park. Friends of Joey’s Park Committee members met with the designers to review the site and to highlight best and worst elements from the park today.
Next, the designers spent the morning visiting with each class at Winn Brook Elementary, talking to students about the process and recording their ideas and suggestions.
Reporter Amalia Barreda of WCVB 5 News came with a crew to observe the proceedings. She interviewed both current students, and also Joey’s childhood friends, Tim Brodigan and Jane MacKinnon (née Flavin).
After a quick lunch, the designers took advantage of beautiful weather to sit outside in view of the park and sketch out new ideas. Children at recess were naturally drawn to this part of the process.
By dinnertime, the preliminary design was finished. Over pizza and salad, the designers reviewed highlights with the Committee and discussed the town presentation that would take place shortly thereafter.
Following on the heels of a PTA ice cream social, the town presentation drew quite a crowd.
Here it is — the preliminary design that resulted from the day’s efforts.
In May and June, the Friends of Joey’s Park Community Input sub-committee conducted a survey to better understand how community members use the park and to gather suggestions for new park design. The results cast an interesting light on the unique aspects of Joey’s Park and why it is so well loved. The following are some highlights from the survey.
Joey’s Park is more than a school playground
Although Joey’s Park occupies a parcel next to the Winn Brook elementary school and we actively petitioned Winn Brook families for responses, the majority (54%) of respondents to the survey have children attending a school other than Winn Brook. Many from around Belmont know Joey’s Park from youth soccer games, play dates, and other events.
Joey’s Park is an important part of recreational life in town
Fully 80% of respondents rated the playground as an “important” or “very important” part of their recreational life, with only 3% responding that it was not important to them. Along these lines, two thirds of respondents use the park at least once a week, with one in six using it daily.
The design of Joey’s Park is special
When asked what they like most about the park, 40% of respondents cited its unique design, while another 20% mentioned the variety of activities, and nearly as many more said that it sparked creative play. The natural look of the park was also highly rated (despite years of wear and tear).
There is room for improvement
Despite the generally positive feelings, there are opportunities for a new design to improve on the current park. Chief among the concerns were safety issues: nearly a quarter of respondents were concerned about lack of visibility and overall structure design. Another 14% felt that the park is not well suited to younger children, while 14% cited splinters from the wooden structure as an issue. Lack of shade, lack of benches and tables, and other missing amenities were also issues for respondents.
Joey’s Park has become a cherished fixture in the community, so it is not surprising that many respondents asked us to preserve the existing feel of the park with its unique design and appeal to a broad range of creative play styles. At the same time, it is also clear that we should also broaden the park’s appeal by making it more safe, providing more rest areas, and improving its durability. Maintaining a strong connection to the community is also a major goal.
You can download a copy of the complete final report here: