SEQUIM — Anybody and everybody: That’s who is expected to benefit from Olympic View Church’s new park project “The Gathering Ground.”
Discussions among church leaders started a year and a half ago, and led to a three-phase playground project for all ages and abilities on 3 acres of open space at the northwest corner of Fir Street and Brown Road.
Organizers anticipate the first phase — a large hill with a slide, a 7-foot by-9-foot concrete log, and a poured-in-place rubber surface — to be installed by March 2024.
More equipment and a pavilion follow in the next phases as funding becomes available, organizers said.
“When done (with the project), we feel this will belong to the community; it’s not ours,” Pastor Lewis Godby said.
“We will benefit from it, but we want the community to be the primary recipients.”
Project volunteer Jessica Piper said she agrees that the project’s focus is for the community, not just the church.
“It’s really about faith in action,” she said. “When we focus on building healthy communities that allow for equity and inclusion, you can’t go wrong with that.”
Play equity is something organizers are all striving for, they said.
A seed for the project started after Piper said she noticed that while her three children were playing on the church’s playground, another boy in a wheelchair was unable to access it. She and her husband Harold brought some ideas to Godby and it grew from there.
“We were looking into something the city didn’t have at the time,” Godby said. “We have the space, and even though we’re close to (Carrie Blake Community Park) there’s a lot of people who use our land for walking their dogs, throwing Frisbee, and for their children to play on the playground.”
Godby said city staff has written the church a letter of recommendation to help obtain grants, and the church has hired a grant writer to help offset costs.
This summer, the City of Sequim held a survey for inclusive and universally accessible design options for three of its parks so staff can seek grants too.
The church and city’s project aren’t in competition though, Godby said.
“We’re celebrating them,” he said. “The more, the merrier.”
The new playground will begin about 5 feet from the church parking lot and be level throughout for consistent accessibility along with wood chips that are wheelchair accessible.
A concrete path is planned between structures, too.
Phase 1 will be in the northwest corner of the property featuring the concrete log and concrete hill with a wide slide, wheelchair ramp, climbing area, metal bars to hold on atop the structure, and a view to the Olympic Mountains.
Organizers said the concrete log encourages imaginative play and provides a space for children to enjoy a quiet space.
Kait Saffold, who serves on the playground committee and has a son with spina bifida who was the catalyst for this project, said he cannot stand or walk yet, but likes to crawl and pull himself up. On the new playground, he could interact side-by-side with other children, she said.
Saffold said Godby emphasizes that the playground is intended so that “everyone is climbing up the hill together,” and her son can participate in the same way as other children.
“Play equity is so everyone can feel like they can play and belong,” Saffold said.
The second phase would include the remainder of the playground equipment, including four swings for various abilities, a preschool-aged structure, a merry-go-round and spinning pyramid level to the ground, two ziplines — with one including a self-contained seat — and five harmonic instruments.
Piper said church leaders wanted a sensory experience for children as that’s important for people with ADHD and autism.
Phase 3 will be a large wooden pavilion with a northwest contemporary feel, Godby said.
There will also be a fence barrier on the east side of the property to prevent children from running out with seating likely built into the fencing, he said.
“We really wanted it to be a place for everybody to feel they were thought about with something for everyone,” Piper said.
The church already has paid for and ordered phase 1, with more than $100,000 donated in the last year, Godby said.
In total the project is estimated at about $320,000, with church leaders anticipating building the structures through sweat equity.
If they receive more funds than budgeted, Godby said they’ll expand and do more.
So far they’ve set a tentative goal to have the phase 2 playground equipment in place by fall 2024, and the phase three pavilion by spring 2025. However, organizers said they’ll wait to order supplies until the money is in place for each phase.
Organizers established a website and gofundme page to track progress and accept donations through gatheringgroundsequim.com. Donations are tax deductible.
Piper said donations are important along with people giving time and equipment to save on costs.
She said the biggest cost will be the surface to ensure “anyone can get from point A to point B.”
Since starting discussions around the project, Piper has moved to Charleston, S.C., with her husband, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. However, she continues to meet with church leaders via Zoom meetings and help with the project.
Piper said she’s thankful to the community as they’ve done some wonderful things to welcome her family, and this is a part of giving back.
“It’s often said that as a military family you plant seeds, but don’t get to see the garden grow,” she said. “Now we will.”
Going forward, Piper said she’s motivated, hopeful and feels the project has a lot of momentum and excitement.
“It’s another opportunity for Sequim to grow into a more family-friendly environment,” she said.
Saffold said she’s grateful for the project.
“Living in a rural area, there’s not a lot of services in this area,” she said for children with disabilities.
“To have something more inclusive to participate in is something I’ve dreamed about.”
For more information about The Gathering Ground at Olympic View Church, 503 N. Brown Road, contact Piper at email@example.com or visit gathering groundsequim.com.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.