By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Will Stitt’s son had to wait nearly a year.
Before Liam Stitt turned 6 last September, dad figured he had the perfect present: a new playground at Keizer Rapids Park called the Big Toy.
While such a structure was already in the park’s master plan, it was Will Stitt who pushed the idea forward in late 2012. He presented some ideas to Bill Lawyer, Public Works director for Keizer. Lawyer encouraged Stitt to attend a Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting in November 2012. Stitt did and proposed some ideas, including research he had done.
The following spring, it was decided the Big Toy would be built in September 2014. Later, a new site within the park was selected, necessitating a delay to this month.
“It was very disappointing because we could have had this done last September, which would have been right around my son’s birthday,” Stitt said June 12. “I had told him, ‘It looks like you’re getting a new playground for your birthday.’ But I think this is a great site and it will work really well. Yeah, it’s disappointing, but now that’s all gone and it’s just the excitement about how close we really are.”
Stitt was part of a group of volunteers that showed up each day to build the 15,000 square foot play structure. When the building actually started June 10, the plan was to have 150 volunteers per shift, three shifts per day, getting done in time for a soft opening at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 14. A delay pushed the opening back to June 20.
Last Friday, Stitt talked about getting the project started. He has been credited as the person who truly helped get the project going. What’s telling is how he started his response.
“First of all, if I hadn’t, someone would have come up with the idea so I don’t know if I can take much credit for this,” he said.
A look at the history, however, shows why Stitt gets the credit. With the birth of his first son (now 6, while his younger son is 4), Stitt looked around for big play structures.
“I had looked at other cities like Lincoln City and Astoria that had really cool big play structures,” he said as the sounds of construction filled the background. “I really liked those. I was looking around Salem/Keizer for those and we really didn’t have anything like that.”
Stitt looked around at more big structures and noticed a similar style. Then he visited a friend in Oak Harbor, Wash., a city that had just put in a play structure with help from consultant Leathers and Associates.
“They went into the schools, the got a lot of input from the community and (my friend) was telling me it sounded like a great idea,” Stitt said. “It seemed like a really good fit for Keizer Rapids. If we were going to put in a big playground in, this was the place we were going to do it.”
Stitt got some information from Oak Harbor and called up Leathers for some information. He then contacted Lawyer.
Stitt emphasized while that research may have helped get the warm response, there was more.
“I think what’s more important is there was already the desire to do something really unique and special here,” he said. “That didn’t come from me. That was there from Rich Walsh and a lot of other people on the board that really wanted to do something unique. Rich said that he had seen a playground (in Lincoln City) and he knew he wanted to do something like that. That just happened to be a Leathers project.”
In late 2013, Leathers designer picked the “Big Tree” site near the boat ramp and more than 3,000 Keizer students submitted design ideas. In January 2014, then-mayor Lore Christopher suggested a move to the filbert orchards in KRP, which were not in the city’s Urban Growth Boundary at the time of the suggestion. Going through that process meant delaying the project nine months.
Stitt, whose family commitments forced him to leave the Community Build Task Force last year, was just happy for the build dates to finally arrive.
“It’s incredible,” he said of the building process. “You’re assigned to a little team and you’re working. I’ve been working with a group of six to eight guys and we’re working in our little area. You get focused on working on that. You’ve got your head down for two or three hours. Then you look up and you look around and things are changing all around you. It’s incredible how fast things are really changing. It’s really exciting just to see everything change so fast.”
Stitt noted his sons missed being able to help dad build like they do at home, but they were at the daycare run by Shelly Paddock while the volunteers build the Big Toy.
Given his involvement with the start of the project, did Stitt expect his sons to be among the first on the playground once complete?
“I expect me to be one of the first on the playground when it opens,” Stitt said with a laugh. “But yeah, I’m sure they will be, yeah.”