Beachwood is buzzing at the news of the new proposed playground that is set to be built next to the Beachwood Family Aquatic Center on Fairmount Boulevard, with a price tag over $3MM. For a community that prides itself on being a great place for families to live, the lofty price tag has many in the town left with concerns. Proponents of the park feel that all kids deserve a safe place to play, and this can really be a selling point for a city and drive the property values up, while creating a tight knit sense of community. But not everyone is happy about the proposed project, and opponents have looked to other Cleveland-area parks with smaller price tags to get their point across.

Building a Park and Building Community

Beachwood City Council recently authorized the $3.3MM-$3.4MM price tag for the new city park, with a vote of 4-3. A Cuyahoga County Grant will offer an additional $700,000, and a private donation will kick in $10,100 to help offset the cost. So, what does that large price tag buy? A safe rubber and turf surface will replace all mulch in this park, which will be geared to all ages and abilities. This fenced-in facility will also offer gate access. There will be zip lines, interactive games, sand, music and art, Americans with Disabilities-accessible features, and a pavilion with picnic tables. This will be a huge improvement from the current playground which is twenty years old. Refurbishing the old playground is not a viable option because many of the replacement parts cannot be found.

Beachwood Mayor Justin Berns said, “We have the opportunity to upgrade our aging playground, which is a highly utilized, free amenity that residents can take their kids and grandkids to,” he said. “This highly visible facility in one of Beachwood’s most trafficked corridors will help to not just attract new families, but also retain residents and increase home values for everyone in the community.”

The Mayor wants to raise the bar on his community, and ensure that Beachwood is one of the best communities around. “I want to see Beachwood not just compete as a top community, but be the example that other communities aspire to,” Berns said.

In an affirmative nod to the project, Cuyahoga County has stepped up to offer a grant that will offset some of the cost of the playground. Cuyahoga County District 11 Councilwoman Sunny Simon explained why the county awarded the grant for the playground. “What struck us was this playground would be open to all people, to everybody,” she said. “To us, this meant that this was a regional transformational project not just for Beachwood, but the entire county. Not every community can afford a playground like this or have access to a playground like this.”

Not Everyone is Buying the New Park Proposal

Critics of the playground say the ticket price is simply too high. Beachwood City Councilman Mike Burkons proposes halting the plans and starting over from scratch with a reduced budget. “If we only spent $1.5 million,” he said, “we’d still be spending half a million dollars more than the most expensive playground in the county’s history.”

Burkons has done his homework. The $980,000 playground Burkons referred to was built specifically to accommodate children with special needs, and opened at Westlake’s Clague Park last year. Additionally, critics of Beachwood’s park also point to the Lindsey Family Play Place at Edgewater Park, which is a popular destination playground in the area and includes the same amenities as the proposed Beachwood park. The Edgewater park cost just $500,000, and it opened in 2021.

Berns countered, “Prices for everything have increased substantially. If you go to the grocery store, the prices are higher than they are pre-COVID. The same thing has happened for playground equipment,” said Berns. He also explained that it was not an apples-to-apples comparison, because each place is unique in design, grading, storm management, and other considerations. Building a home or a park a few years ago would be dramatically different than today. With the higher cost of materials, shipping, gas, and labor, Berns would argue that you can’t really compare the cost of a park opened in 2021 to one built today.

Simon expressed that the park would be an important anchor for the entire county. “We are looking at flight to other communities outside of Cuyahoga County, and this is something that is going to keep residents here,” she said. “It went to the entire council with the same discussion and every council member believed this was transformational and impactful. From our perspective, this is an important anchor to Cuyahoga County, will prevent some of the sprawl outside of it, and to keep residents here and improve quality of life.”

Burkons agrees that a new park is in order, but maintains that Beachwood can still have a nice park with a much more reasonable price tag. Burkons said, “It is frustrating that it is being insinuated that I want a second rate playground for suggesting we set a total budget for this project of ‘only’ $1.5 million, which would be $500,000 more than the most expensive city funded playground project I could find in the history of the county, which was completed last June in Westlake for around $1 million,” Burkons said, also using Mayfield Heights’ and Solon’s upcoming playground projects as an example. The Mayfield Heights $710,000 project is part of its $35 million community recreation center plan. The Solon one is budgeted for $1.3 million, also part of a $22 million project to improve its facilities and offerings.

City Council did approve the price tag, however, and plans for the Beachwood park are moving forward, with demolition of the old park slated for late fall/early winter of 2023. Following the demolition of the current park, site work, grading, drainage, and sewer work will be completed. The installation of the new park will take place in spring of 2024, with a grand opening in summer of 2024.

With the cost of everything from gas to groceries continuing to skyrocket, building a new park to draw positive attention to the city is just another place that consumers and taxpayers will feel the pinch of their pocketbooks. But for a city like Beachwood, that prides itself on being a strong community in which to raise a family, this type of growth is priceless.