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McCormick Park's $289,831 upgrade includes new structures for all abilities.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - The current playground equipment at McCormick Park isn't accessible to some children with disabilities.Look for some dramatic improvements at McCormick Park in St. Helens — courtesy, in part, of the Portland Trail Blazers.

The St. Helens City Council voted Dec. 16 to allow Wildwood Playgrounds of Portland to install upgraded playground equipment at the city's largest park.

According to the city, there were seven playground proposals. City staff and the St. Helens Parks and Trails Commission pored over these proposals and selected two finalists.

According to Sue Nelson, an engineer with the city public works department, the total cost for the project, including installation, is estimated at $289,831.

St. Helens received a $37,000 grant for the playground project from the Trail Blazers and Moda Health.

Last year, the city was approached by the Blazers' Moda Assist Program. The NBA team and healthcare company partnered to offer a contest with awards for a community that had a park project that would include all-inclusive play equipment.

The city quickly agreed to participate in the contest.

"The award of the funding for this grant process was all based on the number of assists that the Trail Blazers would make during the games combined over their entire season," Nelson said. "Then their season got hijacked (by COVID).

"In the meantime, the contest went on, so the contest was still going on even though the basketball season itself was suspended."

Other cities that participated in the contest were Sandy and Astoria.

"At the end of the contest, the city of St. Helens and the community came together, turned in their votes," Nelson said. "We won the contest. We were really, really excited, but we had absolutely no idea how much money we were going to get to help fund our playground project."

She added, "We didn't just stop the process, but we kind of slowed it down a little bit until we had a better understanding of where we might be budget wise and what we would be able to do." COURTESY ILLUSTRATION: CITY OF ST. HELENS - An artist's rendering envisions new, accessible play equipment at McCormick Park.

As for other funding, Nelson said: "A few years ago, the council set aside some money that was specifically for park master plan improvements. We've been using that money to do some smaller projects. Part of it is the matching funding for the grant that we got for the Campbell Park improvement."

McCormick Park also qualifies for system development charges, which developers in the city pay to compensate St. Helens for the cost of utilities, streets and parks that are needed to support the city's population.

"Wildwood Playgrounds will provide all new playground equipment. The old equipment that was there will be removed. This will go in in its place and expand beyond the footprint of the existing playground," Nelson said.

Speaking of the playground upgrade, she noted, "It's accessible. It's ramped, which the other structure is not. It's not just a structure, it's two separate structures: one for older kids, one for younger kids."

Among the expected amenities are a climbing feature, a rocking feature, tactile accessory stations, and a large, ADA-compliant swing that multiple people can use at once.

"It's just got a lot of features that we don't currently have on the play equipment that we have in the public park right now," Nelson said.

A problem St. Helens has faced is outdated playground equipment.

"It is right now about 20 years old," Nelson said of some of the playground equipment. "It's at the end of its life cycle. Over the last few years, they've actually had to remove some components of it because they've broken."

Nelson is enthusiastic about the new playground equipment and hopes the project can get completed the first part of next year.

"There will be a wide variety of activities for people of all abilities to participate in," Nelson said.PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - A sign welcomes visitors to McCormick Park in St. Helens.

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