By Michael Sack, Ward 11 resident and Minneapolis Sidewalk Repair Hunters founder
If you drove, rolled or walked by Pearl Park from late July to mid-September last year, you may have noticed something intriguing going on with the playground. The 27-year-old play area was undergoing a major upgrade that was years in the making. The rejuvenation brought new and accessible aspects that will be a big benefit for our neighborhood for decades to come.
Pearl Park was first constructed around 1929 featuring an ice skating rink. In 1925, the Minneapolis Park Board accepted a generous donation of land surrounding Pearl Lake and some of the Diamond Lake shoreline. In 1936, even more land was acquired to expand the park.
“Pearl Park was developed as — and remains — a busy recreational and athletic destination, with multi-use fields, tennis courts, a basketball court, a wading pool, a recreation center, rainwater harvesting system, community garden and a playground, which was last updated in 1996,” said Francesca Pass, the Pearl Park project’s manager at the Park Board. Needless to say, due to the high volume of activity and the deteriorating equipment, it was time for an upgrade to improve accessibility and safety.
The updated play area focuses on upper body strength, swing sets, adventure, and imaginative play. Unlike the former play area, the new playground uses metal, plastic, and engineered fiber wood for accessibility, which is the standard set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Speaking of accessibility, it was greatly considered while planning and construction was taking place. The rejuvenated area abides by the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Some ADA features include an accessible path to the play area, an accessible path from the park’s edge to the equipment, and surfaces that comply with accessible playground standards. Additionally, the play area’s net contraption has a transfer platform that connects to an accessible route that goes to a six-foot slide.
There have been other upgrades to the Pearl Park recreation area, such as making the paths more wheelchair and stroller friendly and adding handicap parking spots. The recreation center also had a makeover.
“We are excited for the community to use a new playground that is fun, exciting, full of imagination, safe and welcoming to a wide range of ages and abilities,” Pass said.
The renovation process started in 2020 by engaging residents from the area. The pandemic forced that step to be done virtually for a while. The Park Board met with several neighborhood and community groups to gather input.
The project included multiple online surveys, an open house, and collaboration with the Hale-Page-Diamond Lake Association, Pearl Improvement and Recreation Council, and Friends Of Diamond Lake.
The Park Board also held a public hearing, sent out mass email announcements and news updates, and created a project webpage. As the funding for the new play area fell short of its goal, the Pearl Improvement and Recreation Council and Hale-Page-Diamond Lake Association pitched in $50,000.
Construction was slated to start in spring of 2022, but was delayed due to equipment delays. The project kicked off July 25, 2022 with demolition and the brand-new playground was completed by mid-September.
The ribbon cutting celebration took place on October 4, 2022. Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura, Commissioner Stephanie Musich, Hale-Page-Diamond Lake Association President Ben Osborn and Pearl Improvement and Recreation Council President Jerome Rokke spoke on the project, staff, and community involvement. Ward 11 Councilmember Emily Koski also attended the ceremony.