Playground Renovation 2016-17

During most weekends between now and the start of summer camp, the BCC will host playground renovation sessions.  If you are interested in joining the fun, please email for more information!

Playground Renovation Progress:

Schickel Pavilion is in the final stages of painting and electrical work!  Thank you, Bruno Schickel, for your wonderful community service in building the BCC pavilion, and Ernie Bayles for your architectural plans and guidance! (for folks who don’t know: Bruno has donated the labor for building this wonderful new addition to our shared community space, and Ernie has donated his architectural services!) Also a shout of gratitude to John Carson of local firm John Carson Groundworks for donating the excavation work and equipment, and to Slaterville resident electrician Doug White for donating the electrical work. Generosity like yours is what has kept the Brooktondale Community Center at the heart of the Caroline Community for more than 6 decades!

The pavilion will be a place to host concerts and social events, and for children and parents to enjoy outdoor time even on rainy days.  The BCC will welcome chalk drawing on the concrete floor, and we’ve taken care to plan an acoustically satisfying space for both speaking and music. Rental income from the pavilion will also give much needed support for the BCC as we fulfill our mission to the community.

State of the playground budget:

To date (April 1, 2017) we have raised about $25,000 for our renovation.  We are very grateful for generous contributions from Caroline residents and businesses, and for grants from the Legacy Foundation, the United Way of Tompkins County, and the Community Arts Partnership. We continue to need your help as we finish the project in 2017!  If you would like to contribute towards the playground project, please email the BCC Board at or contact BCC Treasurer Marty Hatch.

Playground plans:

Scrolling down through this page shows the evolution in our plans for the playground and shared recreational space behind the BCC.  Because of old and failing playground structures, we anticipated building a new playground similar to other playgrounds in the area at schools and public spaces.  Based on the financial realities of our budget and feedback from the Caroline Community, we have modified our plans somewhat:  Folks in Caroline are more excited by a Children’s Garden type of playground with a variety of new and old, natural and human-made play structures than they are by a more expensive commercial-style playground.

We are operating on a shoestring budget for a playground of this size, and are excited to see how our volunteer efforts and community creativity come together as we embark on the final construction phase in 2017.  To save money and natural resources, we will rebuild our see-saw using the existing robust metal spring structure while replacing the decaying wood.  We also have a high-quality decades-old steel sliding board which we will attempt to rejuvenate and reinstall in the new playground space.  For summer school 2017, we will recycle portions of the old decaying children’s play house structure, and will rebuild a similar structure with more durable materials in early fall 2017. In addition to the children’s play structure, we will add fitness structures for teens and adults near the basketball court (see plans below), and climbing structures designed for children where the old jungle gyms are currently located.


Plans for the BCC teen/adult workout area beside the basketball court: (if you have suggestions or comments, please contact the BCC board)



Other Recent Playground Updates:

Photos below of the completed mural of historic Brooktondale scenes completed by Caroline-based mural artist Mary Beth Ihnken.  This project was made possible through the generous support of Robin Schwartz and the Community Arts Partnership, and the United Way Youth Philanthropy Fund, and was completed during the 2016 BCC summer school sessions:mural-1


The BCC Board has recently purchased 3 new “Elite” commercial quality swingset frames (one tire swing, one tot swing, and one strap swing shown below) to replace the current swings on the playground which are starting to fail after many decades of use.  The new swingsets will be installed in the spring of 2017, and were made possible through donations from community residents.



Current fundraising status:  We’re about half-way there, but we need your support!  Excluding the cost of materials for construction of a new multi-use pavilion, the budget for the playground renovation is $40,000.  We have raised approximately half that amount through our 2015-2016 playground fundraising drive and through the generous support of the United Way of Tompkins County and the Legacy Foundation, as well as donations from Caroline residents.  The new pavilion will be a centerpiece of the playground, and will be a staging area for concerts, outdoor education during the summer camp, and will provide rental income to help the Brooktondale Community Center continue to provide 100% volunteer-based services to the residents of Caroline.  The pavilion will be constructed by expert builder Bruno Schickel as a gift to the community, and is being designed pro bono by one of Ithaca’s finest architects, Ernie Bayles.  In order to complete the pavilion, which is slated for construction in late 2016 and early 2017, we are seeking donations of lumber and materials as well as the help of a licensed electrician.  If you would like to make a donation towards this project or other aspects of the playground, please email the BCC Board at


Proposed Playground Layout:  As we continue to refine our plans in discussions with the community, our layout proposal is undergoing some changes, but the basic plan includes a play area for young children, a separate play area for older kids, and an outdoor exercise area for adults.


There is a popular trend in playground design that uses natural and recycled objects instead of commercially produced play structures.  This is a direction for the BCC playground that is receiving positive feedback from the community.  Some example photos are below, and please scroll down farther to check out other types of playgrounds under consideration:

Here are photos of Ithaca’s own “Children’s Garden” alternative playground:

Some sample photos of outdoor adult exercise areas:



A note about our playground design options:
Playgrounds can be built using many different methods. Some designs incorporate natural structures like rocks, trees, hills, and gardens. Others use modular playground structures and components like those available at A third option is to custom-build play structures using wood or composite materials. A popular choice for contemporary playground designers is to use a combination of custom- built and commercially available modular components. For example, notice the steel swings incorporated into the composite wood playgrounds shown in the photos below.

Some advantages and disadvantages of each approach:

Modular commercially-available play structures are relatively easy to install. The ones made by reputable manufacturers are designed to be durable and require very little maintenance. They follow modern safety codes, and come with clear layout instructions for spacing requirements between the various units. Reviews for structures tend to be readily available. Some cons: Plastic portions of these structures are less durable than metal portions. You get what you pay for, and cheap modulars aren’t very appealing for either durability or aesthetics. Good quality modulars are more expensive than comparable custom-built wood or composite structures. Unfortunately, it is getting harder to find commercial play structures that don’t incorporate LOTS of plastic–It is still possible to buy a variety of 100% metal components, but they are very expensive.

Custom-built wood or composite play structures can be designed specifically for the space and purpose at hand, and foster an imaginative, beautiful and unique play space. Materials tend to cost less than comparable commercial modular playgrounds. Design flexibility allows for better integration into the landscape, and it is easier to incorporate natural features like hills, trees, gardens, rocks, and “found” objects. Some cons: The playground is only as good as the designer, and for best results a professional playground designer should probably be hired. This adds to the cost of the project. The design process and installation is more labor intensive, and requires a good deal more community involvement. Wood and composite structures can sometimes require a little (or a lot) more maintenance than metal/plastic units. Care needs to be taken to follow current codes and safety requirements: Every aspect of the playground needs to be studied–nothing has been pre-determined as it has with commercial structures.

Playgrounds combining some modular and some custom structures can represent the best of both worlds. They can be customized to a particular theme, and offer creative input from the community. The fun but potentially dangerous features of the playground like swings and sliding boards can be left to major playground equipment companies to research and safety test, leaving less high-stress items for on-site construction by volunteers. For this style of playground, hiring a professional playground designer is still recommended for best safety and aesthetics as well as durable design details.

How the nearby Varna Community Center managed their playground project:
Varna Community Center Playground Project
Impressive job, Varna residents!

Photos for brainstorming:

Recently completed Varna Community Center playground. Approximate budget $33,000 plus mostly volunteer labor, excavating, artwork, planning, and assembly.

Larger playground at Myers Point. Includes multiple pavilions and 2 different sized play structures oriented to different ages of kids.

Assorted photos of custom and modular playground components from Lawrence, Kansas

Photos of the Dryden 2016 playground “Community Build” in Montgomery Park just off route 13 in the center of Dryden. Budget in excess of $100,000 including mostly volunteer labor.  This is a large project!