Parks Replacement Bond Stories

Featured stories from the 2018-2019 Bond Annual Report
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Read Hanna's Story: Building trust in immigrant communities 

Read Hanna's Story

As Portland grows, so does the need for quality park features in all corners of the city. Outer Southeast Portland, for example, is home to a large number of newer immigrants and refugees from all over the world. The area will soon see two parks revitalized thanks to the Parks Replacement Bond. Lynchview and Gilbert Primary Parks will feature new playgrounds designed with input and involvement from a diverse community.

Getting the community involved meant earning their trust. Hanna Grishkevich served as a community engagement liaison for both playground projects. The principal of a private school started by Slavic families more than a decade ago and a Ukrainian immigrant herself, Hanna understands the importance of reaching out and assuring immigrants that their opinions really count.

Hanna says that at first, the Russian-speaking community viewed the process with a lot of skepticism. “We would encourage them to vote for their favorite design, and they would say that it really doesn’t matter,” she says. “But [Portland] Parks would tell them, yes, we could do what we want, but that’s not how it works. Our manager is actually interested in what you have to say.”

Their skepticism stems from their cultural roots, Hanna says. “No one ever asks our opinion back home.” The idea of government borrowing was foreign to them. “There are no taxes in Ukraine, and ‘bond’ can’t even be translated,” she says. “But here, they could see what the process was, from start to finish, and all the possibilities. To be able to be a person who decides something, whose opinion matters, who is able to express an idea is inspiring.”

To spread the word about PP&R’s community meetings, Hanna would distribute flyers, in Russian, Spanish, and English, outside the schools adjacent to the parks. She mentioned the meetings to her students, many of whom, she learned, had attended those schools. Realizing that the design process would be the perfect civics lesson, she encouraged them to participate.

Her students and their fellow participants gained a sense of empowerment. “Now they are encouraged to speak their mind, and they know they can participate in a City Council meeting [for instance],” she says. “My students felt proud of their role. I tell them, ‘You will tell your kids someday, I was there; I was in these meetings.’”

Like the participants, Hanna was inspired by the level of engagement PP&R insisted upon. “People can read people,” she says. “[PP&R staff members] gave me faith that not everyone is a bureaucrat going for the checklist. People get into the flow of caring and stay there.”

Read Marti's Story: The power of community

Read Marti's Story

Kenton Park is a second home for many families in the growing North Portland neighborhood. Like every home, renovations are often needed in order to accommodate a family’s changing needs. In this case, Kenton Park’s playground needed an update to better serve its community. The equipment was outdated, inaccessible, and in disrepair. 

Marti Clemmons and her family live very close to the park, which they visit at least once a day. Marti represented the Kenton Neighborhood Association throughout the playground renovation design process. At two open house events, she shared input from parents she spoke with at the playground who weren’t able to attend the meetings.

“What was impressive about those early-stage meetings is that everyone was involved and given the time to be heard,” she says. “This included hearing the children’s ideas. As a community, we were able to pick what we liked or didn’t like about each design.”

Many of those ideas are now a reality. Kids seek adventure on the nature-based timber play structure every day. They scramble up, down, and along staggered timber logs, scale up and down a rope climber, and make their way up to a tower before exiting down a big slide, only to run back and do it all over again. Large chimes give them a chance to create music for all to enjoy, and swings let them soar high to take it all in.

Marti notes some of the amenities grownups had asked for. “I am thrilled at the many benches and picnic tables to sit and watch the community interact with one another.“ She points out the addition of a drinking fountain and raves, “How great is it that we don’t have to walk all the way to the other side of the park to get a drink of water?”

Marti praises the overall design process. “It seemed like a perfect example of how I would like to see future neighborhood endeavors happen. What you see here is a direct outcome of the power of community working with city components to better the neighborhood. If you don’t feel like you are heard in the larger scheme of things or feel like you are not doing enough for your community, get involved, talk with your neighbors—because incredible things will happen.”

On the grand reopening day in September 2018, young park enthusiasts held a long red ribbon while Marti and her four-year-old daughter proudly wielded the ceremonial scissors. Together, they made the symbolic cut and the playground was once again open for the business of play.

Read Renee's Story: A playground for everyone

Read Renee's Story

For Renee Becerra and her family, Gabriel Park has been their neighborhood park for more than five years, but their favorite parks are a bit farther from home. “We usually travel across town to accessible playgrounds like Harper’s Playground, Gateway Discovery Park, and Mountain View Champions Park,” she says. “Those are favorite places for my kids. I love that they can use most or all of the playground equipment there.”

Renee’s sons, ages 3 and 7, are both autistic. Her older son, David, also has a rare type of epilepsy that affects his speech and motor skills, and he uses a wheelchair part of the time. “If he’s feeling good, he prefers to be up and running around at the playground,” Renee says. “On days he isn’t, he’ll stay in his wheelchair and we’ll play together.”

Gabriel Park, with a unique topography, breathtaking views, and open spaces to roam, is a special place that Renee loves to visit. The playground there is important to her and her sons, but they struggle to find activities that work for them on the small outdated play structure. She’s excited that Gabriel Park is the site of PP&R’s next inclusive playground. She is doubly thrilled that it will be a close-to-home destination site in Southwest Portland that is much like the ones she now takes her kids to in Northeast and North Portland.

“The apartment complex I live in has quite a few tenants with disabilities—adults and kids,” Renee says. “Bringing this to our neighbor-hood will be a huge improvement for so many people.”

Renee serves on the Project Advisory Committee for Gabriel Park’s new inclusive playground which is scheduled to be completed in late 2020. Along with fellow parents and children, speech and pediatric specialists, and people who use wheelchairs, she is working to help PP&R hear more input from those who would benefit most from spaces like these. The diverse voices and experiences will help shape a welcoming environment for all.

“My sons love slides and just running around and climbing,” she says. “They’re both going to be so excited to see the changes on the playground.”

Read Stacy's Story: An investment in local businesses

Read Stacy's Story

The Parks Replacement Bond isn’t just about new playground equipment, updated facilities, and improved accessibility in some of the city’s most beloved spaces—it also creates jobs and opportunities for local companies. Many Bond funded park projects are on a smaller scale than other City projects, and they can be an ideal starting point for state-certified Disadvantaged, Minority-owned, Women-owned, and Emerging Small Business (D/M/W/ESB) contractors that want to work with the City.

For this pool of historically underutilized contractors, the City of Portland’s Prime Contractor Development Program (PCDP) provides contracting opportunities and support in navigating the City’s systems, paperwork, and other requirements that can be daunting barriers to success. Stacey Drake Edwards, PCDP Program Manager, works with all City bureaus with capital improvement projects to help the City meet its goal of 20% utilization of D/M/W/ESB companies. As of June 2019, 41% of the value of Bond funded construction work has been awarded to these certified companies.

Utilization of the PCDP program has been a key factor in success for the Bond’s completion of many playground renovations, roof repairs, and restroom repairs across the city. Through the program, D/M/W/ESB contractors have a more level playing field when bidding on jobs and understanding expectations, and PP&R has more knowledgeable contractors to choose from. Equally important, community members see that the people working to improve their parks and community centers reflect the diversity of Portland.

Stacey proudly notes the success story of 3 Diamond Construction, a State Certified Minority Contractor. When the company came to PCDP, most of its work had been with smaller projects. After completing some smaller maintenance projects for PP&R, 3 Diamond was able to successfully compete for and complete a $160,000 Bond-funded improvement project on the Springwater Trail. The opportunities that PCDP and the Bond Program presented have allowed this local Latino-owned business to steadily increase their experience and profits.

Despite success stories like these, Stacey acknowledges that there are still challenges for her program to overcome as staff may think it will be hard to work with newer, emerging businesses. In the end, it is worth it. Stacey says, “having this program means that City bureaus will have more access to qualified contractors, while keeping costs down and opportunities up.”