Unburned portions of the Port Angeles Dream Playground at Erickson Playfield stand on Thursday next to an area that was burned in an arson fire in December. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Unburned portions of the Port Angeles Dream Playground at Erickson Playfield stand on Thursday next to an area that was burned in an arson fire in December. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles’ Dream Playground to be rebuilt a third time

Community donating money, time for project

PORT ANGELES — When Corey Delikat received the text “I’m sorry for your loss” on the morning of Dec. 20, he thought someone he knew had died.

It wasn’t a person the Port Angeles Parks & Recreation director would end up mourning, but the Generation II Dream Playground at Erickson Park, which had been destroyed by an intentionally set fire and left a smoldering ruin. A 14-yer-old boy has been charged with arson.

He wasn’t alone in grieving the loss of the beloved playground at 302 S. Race St., built with thousands of volunteer hours and dedicated in 2021. The Generation II playground replaced the original mostly-wood Dream Playground, built by community members over six days in 2002.

“I was onsite for a few days and saw the impact it had,” Delikat said of the many people who came by after the fire. “It was a symbol of what we can do as a community.”

While the city and the Dream Playground Foundation recognized the playground had become a popular destination for children and families, they didn’t anticipate the community’s reaction. People began leaving flowers and signs at the site the morning of the fire.

There were “lots and lots of tears,” said Steve Methner, president of the foundation, which presented an update along with Delikat on the status of the rebuild of the playground on Friday to Nor’Wester Rotary.

“We didn’t even realize just how central this thing had become to our community and settled into the core of who we are in Port Angeles,” Methner said. “So it just wrecked us to lose this.”

The response from the community confirmed what needed to be done when, almost immediately after the fire, unsolicited donations began pouring in. Within a month, $200,000 toward rebuilding the playground had been collected.

Big and small businesses immediately stepped up to contribute to the project, Methner said.

Mix-It Shack was one of the first to respond by pledging 10 percent of its proceeds through Christmas to the playground. Ruddell Auto and Wilder Auto Sales each donated $10,000. Green Crow Foundation held a pajama party movie night at Field Arts & Events Hall, and Blue Heron Acupuncture & Wellness held pop-up fundraisers. Welly’s Real Fruit Ice Cream sponsored a flavor-naming contest with proceeds going to the playground.

The Dream Playground Foundation gave $50,000 and Nor’Wester President Carmen Geyer presented Delikat and Methner with a check of $10,500 at the meeting.

That’s not to mention the donations from individuals who gave money and volunteered work to see the Dream Playground rebuilt.

The city and foundation moved quickly to create a plan. One of the first decisions was that new Dream Playground would essentially be the same as the one lost in the fire.

“We can do it now rather than go back to the drawing board for something that would put us out another 18 months,” Methner said. “Our goal is to have it available before school gets out.”

The rebuild is scheduled for May 15-19 after demolition and debris removal has been completed. Those elements not lost in the fire, including some metal structures, will remain for retrofitting.

The Generation II Dream Playground was completed for $675,000. While materials have increased in price, Methner said not having to do prep work on the site will save the project money.

The estimated rebuild cost of $550,000 includes $250,000 for materials, $250,000 to replace all of the surfacing and $50,000 for permitting and the services of Play By Design, which produced the structures destroyed in the fire.

Just as they did previously, volunteers will install the new Dream Playground. More than 250 have already signed on.

The Port Angeles City Council had on Feb. 6 approved $250,000 in lodging tax funds to rebuild the Generation II Dream Playground with the condition that the funds would be returned if the city received insurance funds. Later that month, the city received word from the Washington Cities Insurance Authority that it would receive a refund for a full rebuild.

“We had another $100,000 to 150,000 to fundraise, so when we found out about the insurance, I didn’t know how much tension there was in my body, but I sort of physically relaxed all of a sudden,” Methner said.

He said a frequent question he has received was how donations from the community would be used now that the rebuild cost will be covered by insurance.

“I’m asking the design firm to help us come up with ideas, like a stroller path around the outside so parents can push the little teeny kids round while they watch the bigger kids play,” Methner said. “There are some components that we couldn’t afford with the first build that we should be able to afford this time.”

Methner said it didn’t take long after the initial shock of the fire for the foundation, the city and the community to start organizing for another playground project. After all, they’d done it before.

“We got this,” Methner said. “We know how to do it already.”

For more information about the Dream Playground Foundation or the community rebuild project, visit www.padreamplayground.org.

Community members can also learn more by calling the Parks and Recreation office at 360-417-4550 or emailing parksandrecreation@cityofpa.us.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at paula.hunt@peninsuladailynews.com.

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