No end to monkeying around at Portland playground

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PORTLAND — City Councilor Kevin Donoghue met with Munjoy Hill residents last week to get their input on new designs for park and playground construction at the former Marada Adams Elementary School.

At an Aug. 28 meeting, residents discussed equipment and landscaping options with Donoghue, city staff and representatives from Avesta Housing.

Avesta is a nonprofit agency that is developing the three-quarter-acre site, which is bordered by Moody, Munjoy,Vesper and Wilson streets.

The $5.5 million development will include 16 affordable two- and three-bedroom condominiums, as well as the park and playground. Construction will break ground at a ceremony on Sept. 13, and the project is expected to be completed next spring.

When it is, it will likely include monkey bars. That was the strong recommendation of residents who spoke at last week’s meeting, including a 9-year-old girl.

Earlier plans for the site’s playground had called for removing an existing set of monkey bars. At the meeting, project landscape architect Regina Leonard presented a range of alternatives in response to public feedback.

“We heard you,” she said.

Donoghue said that all the alternatives were feasible, and that he was eager to hear what residents wanted. “These choices aren’t pie in the sky, they’re pie on the table,” he said.

At the end of the discussion, recycling the existing monkey bars – perhaps in combination with a new, horizontal ladder – was the clear preference.

The only challenge is that including such large pieces of playground equipment may require scaling back others. For example, Leonard said, the final design might have to include fewer swing sets.

“When we get to larger equipment, we have to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul,'” she said.

In addition to the playground equipment, the design calls for seating, picnic tables, walking paths and green space where children can play.

But it doesn’t include a city-owned parcel in the corner of the site, between Moody and Munjoy streets. That parcel, today used as a parking lot, isn’t part of the project. However, Donoghue invited the public to submit ideas for the lot.

“The city currently doesn’t have a policy for determining the use for the rest of the  property,” he said.

In other business, Donoghue, city staff and residents discussed plans for improving traffic at the intersection of North and Walnut streets with a new stop sign. 

Currently, three stop signs regulate the flow of vehicles through the intersection. But eastbound traffic approaching North Street on Walnut Street is not required to stop.

The intersection is “confusing,” said city planner Tom Errico, and creates safety risks for both pedestrians and vehicles. But adding a fourth sign would create other hazards, because the steep uphill grade of Walnut Street would make it difficult for vehicles to stop when road conditions are icy or slick, he said.

The city has been working to figure out a solution to the dilemma since 2007, city engineer Katherine Earley said. A one-way configuration was tried last year, she said, and then scrapped.

Now, the city plans to install the fourth stop sign, supplemented by a new type of pavement coating that will give drivers enough traction to stop safely on Walnut Street and then move through the intersection.

The pavement coating has been used successfully in New York and elsewhere, but never in Maine, Errico said. 

The city will add warning signs to alert drivers to the new traffic pattern, according to Earley. The changes are expected to be made in the next couple weeks.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

Sidebar Elements

A view from Walnut Street at the uphill intersection with North Street in Portland, where the city plans to install a new stop sign and a new type of pavement coating that will give drivers added traction to stop safely on Walnut Street.