Wednesday, June 19, 2013
PORTLAND - "Save the Monkey-bars!" say the hand-drawn posters stapled on telephone poles around the former Adams School on Munjoy Hill. "Kids from all around the Hill love the monkey-bars."
Sadie Ouillette, 9, and Natasha Mallie, 10, made posters in their effort to save the monkey bars at a Portland playground.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
This is one of the posters made by Sadie Ouillette and Natasha Mallie of Portland in support of the monkey bars.
The posters, signed by 9-year-old Sadie Ouillette and 10-year-old Natasha Malia of Wilson Street, urge people to contact the Portland Parks and Recreation Department.
Can you really fight City Hall with felt-tipped marking pens? Absolutely, these girls have discovered.
Their posters and the buzz they have created are causing city officials to rethink plans for the playground at the former school.
The playground equipment is being removed as part of the site's redevelopment by Avesta Housing. Sixteen condominium units are being built. Avesta has the city contract to remove the old playground equipment and create a new park with new equipment.
The issue is bigger than children's attachment to some playground equipment. It's part of a philosophical debate -- citywide and nationally -- about the value of traditional playground equipment relative to the more minimalist approach of "natural play spaces," said Assistant City Manager Anita LaChance.
On Munjoy Hill, the pro-monkey-bar faction is clearly in the traditionalists' camp.
The two girls on Wilson Street were furious to the point of tears when they saw construction workers remove the monkey bars last week.
They got even more upset when they saw a development schematic at the site that showed one swing set, a small slide and what appeared to be some sort of spring toy. The rest of the site was a grassy hill, granite slabs and landscaping.
"It looked like some kind of post-modern Druid sort of play area," said Tim Ouillette, Sadie's dad. "It seemed to be designed to be more of a park than a playground for children."
The girls drew several posters expressing their desire to bring back the monkey bars, then showed them to their parents, who made copies and stapled them to telephone poles.
With their parents' help, they also sent emails to officials at City Hall and Avesta. Other families then joined the campaign.
Regina Leonard, the landscape architect who designed the new playground, said in an email that she was "surprised and saddened" by some of the comments she received from neighborhood residents.
She said the playground, which will cost about $250,000 to develop, was designed in conjunction with the larger site redevelopment project. That project was approved by the Planning Board after much public notice and community outreach.
Although the city couldn't make major changes to the playground now without undermining the public process, it could make a minimal change, such as swapping out one piece of equipment for monkey bars, said Seth Parker, a development officer with Avesta.
Officials want to hear from residents at a neighborhood meeting before they make any decision about monkey bars, he said. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Cummings Community Center on Congress Street.
The girls' monkey bar posters have had a powerful effect on city officials and neighborhood residents because they present the authentic desires of children, said state Rep. Diane Russell, who lives on nearby Vesper Street.
She said she loved the monkey bars when she was a kid. It was "huge deal" when she got tall enough to touch them, then hang on them, and eventually get all the way across them, hand over hand.
"The kids are absolutely the experts, and I trust their judgment," she said. "They are saying, 'Please save the monkey bars.' What are you going to say? 'No?' Are you heartless? Of course we're going to save the monkey bars."
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: