Kid’s Castle upcoming demolition sparks community emotion


Mia Constantin

A damaged plank of wood is exposed to the elements as kids play on the monkey bars in the background.

The sound of children screaming with laughter grew louder as I neared Kid’s Castle. The late afternoon sun cast a golden sheet of light on the wooden turrets as the playground neared its busiest hour of the day, 6:00 in the evening. Although it was a hot day, the playground wasn’t packed, with a few families surrounding it and even fewer children playing on the actual structure. Standing on the playground’s premises, you’d be able to hear the occasional “Parkour,” coming from a little boy jumping from the wooden railings.

Mia Constantin
This is just one of the many examples of new wood added to the structure to make it structurally sound and up to code. Each year pieces of wood need to be replaced causing the playground to be very cost ineffective.

Kid’s Castle, located in the middle of Purcell Park, has become a staple in the community for children and adults alike. Recently, there have been concerns over the safety of the playground. The structure frequently has had new wooden additions, added as the old wood rots away. These safety concerns were able to build into a movement to tear down Kid’s Castle and replace it with a new and improved playground, without the safety liabilities.

Smithland Elementary School teacher Stephanie Van Nortwick was also there with her children. She was visiting the playground because she had found out from a handout that the playground was getting torn down and replaced with a new one and wanted her own kids to experience Kid’s Castle before it was gone forever. She acknowledges that there are some parts of the playground that look in need of repair. 

Mia Constantin
A plank of wood on the side of a tunnel showing some of the damage that has accumulated over time.

“That little tunnel part, my kids went through it, and I went over the top and the wood’s all splintery and there’s nails sticking out. Or some of the little tunnel parts I saw things sticking out on it. I teach elementary school and they sent home a paper to the students about “Design a Playground,” and then when I realized it was this playground they were replacing it was more upsetting to me then when I thought they were just building a new one. I feel like it has a lot of character,” Van Nortwick said.

In her opinion, the structure needs many repairs to stay relatively safe, as seen from the outside of the playground. She appreciates the way this playground helps initiate the imagination of the kids. Something that wouldn’t be a problem if the playground were made out of metal and plastic.

“They’re going to have to keep replacing things, so they’re just thinking to tear the whole thing down. I mean I just like that it’s a castle too, and seeing that they can [also] play imaginatively, if they’re older,” Van Nortwick said. “I see a lot of bigger kids jumping off stuff and from one thing to another. Those rubber bridges, the kids really liked to run across them.”

Many of the high schoolers in the area grew up playing mostly on Kid’s Castle seeing as it was the only non-school playground in Harrisonburg until the Dream Come True playground was built. 

Junior Julia White visited Kid’s Castle very frequently, as it was walking distance from her house, giving her the opportunity to explore the playground as a kid and experience memories that came with it.

“We went [to Kid’s Castle] pretty much every Saturday and Friday, anywhere from first grade to fourth grade. I really liked going with some of my friends in the neighborhood. We [also] had picnics around there and the kids would play,” White said. “I just liked all the different nooks and crannies of the place. It was a great hiding place too. Now that it’s being torn down, I think that’s honestly just really sad and there’s no reason [in my opinion] for it to be torn down.”

Mia Constantin
This is one of the main towers of the playground. The playground is made to look like a castle, hence the name “Kid’s Castle.”

Junior Dorothy Yates also spent her childhood playing on Kid’s Castle, making the play structure a part of her heart. Hearing that it was getting torn down for a newer playground helped her reminisce about her fond memories with it.

“We’d go swing on the swing sets for hours, run around, get splinters and everything like that. We’ve [gone to Kid’s Castle] ever since [it was rebuilt] after it got burned down. To hear that it’s getting [torn] down is something that really hurts my heart. It’s been there forever and that’s just where my home really is,” Yates said. “It’s also a place where I can just go there by myself and let out any stress I have and just hang out.”

While this project is in its early stages of finding a design for a new playground and making a master plan, the Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation department is relying heavily on the public’s opinion for this rebuild, with an open forum held on Sep. 19 for adults and children alike to give their ideas on what they would like to see with this new playground.

One of the other reasons that parents like Van Nortwick might want to rebuild a new playground is that there are many small crawl spaces that are accessible to only the children playing, giving the kids a chance to be out of an adult’s eyesight for prolonged periods of time.

“The kids could go places the adults can’t. I think it’s good because it encourages a lot of risk taking and exploring, because there are the little closed off tunnel places, there’s a lot more options in the same amount of space, then if you were at ‘The Dream Come True’ [playground] where it’s more open,” Van Nortwick said.

Mia Constantin
Second grader Aracelys Ortiz-Rivera swings from the monkey bars, enjoying the playground.

However, some kids who lived with Kid’s Castle in their backyard for numerous years, such as junior Gretchen Maune, feel as if this playground allows kids to toughen up. 

“I feel people are always overly concerned with difficulties like [the playground being made out of wood]. Kids are okay if they scrape their knees or something like that. It’s more of a sentimental thing,” Maune said.

For many, this playground has character because it’s older than most playgrounds and made mostly out of wood, an uncommon material for playgrounds nowadays. This is one of the many reasons Kid’s Castle is being demolished and rebuilt into a new playground. Wood simply degrades quickly, has to be constantly replaced and is a huge fire hazard. All of these safety liabilities wouldn’t be a problem with a playground made out of metal and plastic, the materials that the new playground will most likely be made out of.

As for Van Norwick, she appreciated the character and uniqueness of the park facilitating her children’s playground experience they wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else. This is especially due to the design of the playground, made to look like an actual castle.

“I like all the little turrets and the fact that there are different ways to get places, and all those paintings and mirrors, that the kids think they’re discovering something. It’s their secret spot and you can tell it really facilitates them playing tag,” Van Norwick said.

As for Yates, she remembers the countless times she would play on Kid’s Castle with her friends. Throughout the whole playground, the shiny silver metal slides are engraved in her memory as both the worst and best part of the grounds.

“I would be so scared to go down [that metal slide], but we would always hold hands and we’d scoot down on our butts and we’d just hop off of it quickly. Then [we would] run around and do [it] again for hours and hours,” Yates said. “Our parents would sit at the very end of the big metal slide and always catch us. That was the best thing, [and] being pushed on the swings, and doing flips off the swings. That’s everything to me.”

Mia Constantin
A full view of the entire play structure.


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