Students to help redesign Imagination Station

Krystle Wagner • Sep 29, 2017 at 12:00 PM

More than 20,000 square feet in Grand Haven’s Mulligan’s Hollow Recreation Area is being reimagined and designed for an inclusive play space.

Nearly 30 years after the Imagination Station took shape, the community is joining together again through the Reimagine Project. More than 100 local students will explore needs and develop ideas for a space that will be accessible for all ages and abilities.

Designers from Leathers & Associates will take the kids’ designs and create a final design that will be revealed at 6 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Tri-Cities Family YMCA.

More than 1,500 volunteers are expected to help build the play space next fall.

The project is estimated to cost $500,000. Later this fall, a fundraising campaign will be launched with the goal of raising donations and grants.

The project

In June, community members in various service groups met and discussed public concerns regarding the Imagination Station’s current structure and how to sustain it in the future, said Chris Streng, a co-chairperson for the Reimagine Project along with his wife, Kristi.

The current structure was expected to last 20 years, and it’s currently 27 years old, Chris Streng said. Since the structure is still usable, he said they wanted to be proactive in addressing the community’s concerns before it became unusable and there was a gap in time when it could be used.

Leathers & Associates, based in Ithaca, New York, was involved with building the Imagination Station in 1990. At that time, Wendy Creason led the project.

The Reimagine Project steering committee met with Creason and volunteers who were involved in the original project to gain insight on the process of designing, building and fundraising. Kristi Streng said they’re involving the next generation in the project.

“It’s our time to give back,” Chris Streng said.

With the community coming together for the project, Chris Streng said children have a chance to witness the saying “It takes a village” in action.

Regardless of age or ability, Kristi Streng said there’s something everyone can do.

“It helps encourage and empower people to step up and give back,” she said.

Growing up in Grand Haven, the Strengs recall when the Imagination Station was built. Kristi, who was 12 at the time, said she remembers playing on it when it was complete. Chris, who was 13 at the time, remembers seeing the volunteers building the structure.

Chris Streng said it’s one thing to raise money and it takes it to another level physically building something shoulder-to-shoulder with neighbors.

“I remember that excitement and that sense of community and doing something together,” he said.

‘Design Days’

More than 100 public, charter and parochial schoolchildren will spend three days next week participating in “Design Days.”

The students will work to answer the driving question, “How might we design a play space that can accommodate all the children in our community and visitors?” They will engage in design thinking and project-based learning that will have an authentic impact in the community and leave them feeling empowered, said Annie Ratke, a Peach Plains Elementary School teacher.

Ratke and her husband and fellow teacher, Andrew, are overseeing the children’s committee for the Reimagine Project. Annie Ratke said the role of teachers is to create the schedule and protocol, and let students take charge.

On Wednesday, the students will visit other play spaces in Ottawa County to see themes and what is in place. 

On Thursday, they will meet with students with special needs from Grand Haven High School. Together, they will look at and talk about barriers community members with special needs face.

Melissa Richardson and Jeff Troupe, who teach students with special needs at the high school, said they advocate for their kids every day, and they were excited when community members reached out to them for their involvement. Richardson and Troupe are on the Reimagine Project’s accessibility committee.

Troupe said they’ve worked hard to integrate their students at the high school and now they’ll be able to further expand into the community. With the project, he said their students will get to think about themselves and share their knowledge about what needs to be in place and how to make the space accessible.

In preliminary conversations with their students, Richardson said one child with a visual impairment asked for the ground and steps to be different colors.

“It’s these little details that are huge for him to use that play space safely,” she said.

The goal is for the entire design to integrate all pieces together so it’s inclusive for all children and not segregated, Troupe said.

The design students will gain empathy as they learn from their peers about barriers, Andrew Ratke added.

The “Design Days” students will also meet with community stakeholders such as physical therapists, occupational therapists and physical education teachers to learn about what could be in place to help children grow while having fun.

Once they receive feedback, the students will narrow down their ideas and develop prototypes. On Friday, they will pitch their ideas to Leathers & Associates, who will create the final design.

“Design Days” participants were selected based on teacher recommendations, and if they’re collaborative, open and willing to think “outside the box.” Some might have also been involved with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s futurePREP program, Annie Ratke said.

While not all children will be involved in “Design Days,” there will be opportunities in the coming year for the entire community to be engaged in the project.

In addition to bringing the community together, Kristi Streng said she looks forward to seeing children explore the new play space.

“I can’t wait for when we open it up and see those kids rush in and check it all out,” she said.

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