Wood or plastic? Playground builders, not City Hall, will decide.

FILE PHOTO - Crews responded to the blaze about 4 a.m. last April.Dirt won't fly at a new Imagination Station playground until after Labor Day, the Troutdale City Council reports.

The design itself remains a question mark — but whatever is constructed, builders will need dry, stable September soil. Additionally, staff at City Hall don't want to close off the play area during the summer, when usage is highest.

"We don't know what we want, and we don't want to determine what we want in terms of materials or specific design," noted City Manager Ray Young. "But the experts who came on Aug. 9 seem to have a few really good ideas."

FILE PHOTO - Imagination Station cost about $125,000 when it was first constructed in 1992. It's replacement will likely be made of metal, not wood.Last April, an intentionally-set fire destroyed one-third of the playground, which is located at 900 S.W. Cherry Park Road, just west of Reynolds High School. Two arsonists recorded in surveillance footage have never been identified.

Public officials voted to completely rebuild the structure in August, but soon became embroiled in a heated debate over design materials: wood or plastics.

Former Mayor Doug Daoust vowed that Troutdale was finished with wooden play structures, but his term expired before the city could sign a deal with a manufacturer. A citizen committee has angled for a non-wooden design, citing improvements to safety among other factors.

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the City Council voted to forgo the usual competitive bidding process, where companies submit cost estimates for a detailed plan provided by the city.

Instead, the city will use a "design-build" process, where the burden for blueprints (including site materials) is placed on the equipment builder.

FILE GRAPHIC - An unofficial design proposal from GameTime, which produces prefabricated play structures that can easily be assembled by volunteers on site."(Competitive bidding) is like asking someone to design a pickup truck. And they design a Chevy pickup truck and you ask Ford to bid on it," Finance Director Erich Mueller said. "Well, they can come close — it's got four wheels and a bed and an engine and so forth — but it doesn't exactly meet the specifications."

Mueller noted that the council is roughly halfway through the replacement process, with many decisions still to come.

Three rough-draft designs submitted to the council last year ranged in cost from $218,000 to $390,000, none including wooden materials. Mueller said the final price will likely be 10 to 20 percent higher, meaning that the city's tab could top out at just under half a million.

Up next, the Parks Advisory Committee will meet to review submitted proposals on Wednesday, April 12. At City Hall, several committee members said their No. 1 priority was creating a design that exceeds access mandates from the federal government.

FILE GRAPHIC - A Play By Design illustration shows one option for rebuilding the third of Imagination Station destroyed by fire. The Troutdale City Council voted to replace the entire structure on Tuesday, Aug. 9."We as a committee were unanimous that we wanted the new Imagination Station to be much more inclusive than 22 years ago, when code and culture were different," testified Chairman Charlie Foss. "We will not be recommending to council any firm that does not make Imagination Station completely (Americans with Disabilities Act) inclusive."

During public testimony, former Troutdale city councilor John Wilson said there was some "prejudice" from elected officials against certain design materials.

Councilor Glenn White, however, said he didn't want politicians to stand in the way of progress.

"I know staff is being extra cautious because this kind of became a political hot potato. I don't think that's a problem any longer," he said. "No pun intended, but I think (the committee) hit it out of the park with their recommendation."

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