Ideas for all-abilities park unveiled during public meeting at Farmington Civic Center

Design firm official shares concepts, displays during two-hour gathering

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The park will be located at 317 E. Apache St. on the site of the former Tibbetts Middle School.
  • It will be focused on providing universal accessibility and all-inclusive amenities for play, therapy and fitness.
  • City officials have described it as the first project of its kind in San Juan County and have estimated its price tag at $10 million.

FARMINGTON — Supporters of Farmington's planned all-abilities park got their first look at how the new project might look during a public meeting May 11 at the Farmington Civic Center as representatives of the Albuquerque firm hired to design the park delivered a two-hour presentation on the facility.

Greg Miller, a principal at MRWM Landscape Architects led the meeting, which featured visual displays of some of the design features that might be included in the project, along with examples of the equipment that could be part of the park.

Miller also took members of the crowd, which numbered approximately three dozen people, through the process of how the design would be assembled and how long that process would take.

The park, which will be located at 317 E. Apache St. on the site of the former Tibbetts Middle School, will be focused on providing universal accessibility and all-inclusive amenities for play, therapy and fitness. City officials have described it as the first project of its kind in San Juan County and have estimated its price tag at $10 million.

Miller began the meeting by describing his own passion for such projects, explaining that his two children were born with a neuromuscular disorder that left them in a body cast at just 7 weeks old. Miller responded to their physical challenges by building what he described as a "therapy gym" in the family's backyard, and that led to his interest in the all-abilities park field.

Greg Miller of MRWM Landscape Architects addresses the crowd at a meeting about the design of an all-abilities park at the Farmington Civic Center on May 11.

"It's gone from full-bore passion to absolute obsession," he said.

Miller spent much of the first half of the meeting describing the science behind the design of all-abilities parks and how they can help promote healthy brain and social development in children. He said well-designed all-abilities parks promote traditional play, as well as nature play — which includes natural materials and settings, and equipment made of natural materials — and inclusive play, which removes barriers and encourages social interaction among children of all abilities.

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The process of designing such a park in Farmington got started with the May 11 meeting, Miller said, describing that step as the beginning of the pre-concept design phase. Within another month, Miller and his staff will have developed a schematic design. After that, they will move on to the design development phase, during which the project will take on real form and function, he said. Finally, perhaps near the end of summer, a final master plan will be unveiled.

"We really owe it to this community to do as good a job as we possibly can," he said.

Miller said the options that are available for creating such a park are numerous, and he promised to share dozens of ideas with the public along the way.

"It's basically a blank slate, so we can do a lot of cool stuff," he said.

Miller said the park likely would include "bubble areas" of uses – that is, small regions of the park devoted to various activities or elements such as large play (swinging, spinning and sliding), small play (sensory games, explorative elements and shaded walkways), large fields and berms, sports courts, water elements, nooks and gathering spaces, and gates and fencing.

Greg Miller of MRWM Landscape Architects takes audience members through some of the science behind the design of all-abilities parks during a public meeting May 11 at the Farmington Civic Center.

After Miller unveiled visual representations of what those elements might look like, his staff solicited public feedback from those assembled by encouraging them to vote for their favorite design through a cellphone app that calculated polling results in real time.

Miller also noted that a website already has been launched at cofallabilitiespark.org where respondents can take the same 11-question survey and express their preferences for elements and design.

One of the more important decisions designers will make is selecting a guiding principle for how the park space is organized, Miller said, noting that his firm would like to have the space reflect the geology of the Four Corners region. So the park itself could serve as a miniature version of the Colorado Plateau and its mesas, along with the riparian areas along the San Juan, Animas and La Plata rivers. It also will feature distinct changes in topography and elevation, he said.

During a question-and-answer session with audience members that followed the presentation, Shaña Reeves, the director of the city's parks, recreation and cultural affairs department, said funding for the project likely would come from a variety of sources — grants, gifts, the fundraising efforts of a private foundation and the city.

One member of the audience posed the question of how his organization would go about donating money for a specific element of the park it would like to see included. Dennis Mathis of the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation said his nonprofit organization would like to fund a section of the park that features musical equipment.

Reeves encouraged Mathis and other members of the organization to reach out to her so they could have a conversation to explore that idea in private.

"We will see if we can work to accommodate you," she said.

Miller responded to a question about the possible inclusion of wheelchair swings in the park by pointing out the problems associated with that kind of equipment.

"They're tremendously dangerous," he said, explaining that children easily can become trapped under such swings, and that other all-abilities parks that offer such swings require a city staff member to be present to supervise their use.

But he said his staff intends to develop alternatives that would be available to people in wheelchairs that would offer them the same sense of motion or sensation without the danger of a swing.

Miller encouraged everyone to take part in the survey and stay engaged in the process of developing a park design as it unfolds.

"I know we hit you’re a lot of information tonight," he said. "I could talk about this for the next 17 hours."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.