Park board slowly making changes at Castle Park

LANGLEY — Baby steps.

That’s what the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District is taking to upgrade Castle Park.

The venerable wooden structure must be repaired to meet current codes and standards. Last Wednesday, district officials gingerly took the next step, authorizing more of the park’s structural elements to be replaced with a plastic wood composite material.

The district got money to fix up the park a year ago this month, but the parks board has wrestled with what to do with the massive wooden playground. A total of $300,000 from last February’s $1.6 million voter-approved bond was budgeted for the renovation project.

Built in 1991 with community volunteers, the structure has deteriorated over the years from weather damage and the added wear-and-tear of thousands of children climbing through and over the expansive structure’s nooks and crannies.

Ideas included tearing down the structure and replacing it with a similar castle-themed playground made of recycled plastic that looks like wood, repairing certain areas incrementally with Alaskan yellow cedar or erecting a large roof to cover the whole thing.

But when several large sections of perimeter fence were found to be damaged last fall, park officials decided to replace it.

Installed by local contractor Mike Skouras, the new fence is designed and built to last 30 years.

“The new fence is made of Fiberforce, a cedar-toned composite resin that will be stronger and last a very long time,” said park maintenance supervisor Tom Fallon. “The lack of the perimeter fence was a safety issue we couldn’t ignore.”

Skouras was authorized to cap the 61 fence posts and to spend up to $28,000 replacing several deck areas and the monkey bars with the Fiberforce material.

“The new fence looks very good,” said Park Commissioner Matt Simms. “Especially from a community standpoint.”

He noted there haven’t been any complaints about the new fence and that it blends nicely with the existing park.

“After this work is done and the weather improves, we’ll have a much better idea how people feel; we need their input,” he said. “I haven’t heard any negatives.”

There were earlier concerns, however, when park officials discussed replacing the iconic wooden castle with a plastic playground. District commissioners had considered purchasing a structure that would be similar in construction to the one installed at Fort Nugent Park in Oak Harbor. That new plastic park has proven to be easy to clean and maintain, doesn’t splinter and holds up in all weather conditions.

Park Commissioner Linda Kast has long favored upgrading the park in pieces.

“For years, park staff have told us about problems with rotting wood and play elements that have deteriorated over time because of the weather,” Kast said.

Park Commissioner Jim Porter wanted more feedback.

“I’m comfortable with the phasing process,” he said. “My concern is that the fence has just been finished and we should hear more about what folks think.”

Fallon and Skouras said the new decks would provide a cleaner, safer surface with no splinters.

“We hear about little kids and splinters all the time,” Fallon said.

In the end, commissioners agreed to move ahead, focusing on the areas needing the most attention.

The next regular parks meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 18 at the South Whidbey Community Health Services building at 5475 Maxwelton Road in Langley.

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