News Roundup -- Playground gets makeover/Economist: sunny forecast/Super Supper on the move/Foundation names board

Playground gets makeover

With the daffodils in March, a new playground will be springing up in place of the old one in Waterfront Park behind Town & Country.

The city is improving safety and enhancing the equipment of the playground, popular with moms and kids visiting downtown.

Safety enhancements include increasing “depth of material” to cushion impact from dismounting a slide or swing, greater fall protection and separating play equipment for older and younger children. A fence will also be installed to separate the play area from the roadway.

A new play structure called “the big toy” for children ages 2-5 will be installed and the original swings suitable for ages 6-12 will be returned.

The playground is scheduled to reopen March 1 in time for the spring and summer when it gets a lot of use.

The original swing set, tire swing and slide are targeted for older kids.

The “big toy” will be a multi-activity structure for younger children that includes a slide, fireman’s pole and jungle gym-like climbing apparatus. A separate swing for younger kids will also be installed.

Benches are not in the initial work project, but Assistant Public Works Director Lance Newkirk said the department is looking to add them later as an amenity.

Memorial benches are sometimes donated to parks and playgrounds, so some potential spots have been reserved for that.

The enhancements are a result of the city’s audit of its playgrounds by a member of the staff that received training and certification by the National Playground Safety Institute.

Also informing the renovation is input from public meetings and an informal survey of parents and children at city playgrounds to learn what they liked and not, to enhance the play experience.

“The feedback was, users want stuff for different age groups,” said Aaron Claiborne, a public works employee. “Parents want something they can bring all their kids to.”

The playground project is being funded by $38,000 approved by the Bainbridge City Council for the safety improvements and enhancements. The cost of excavation and installation will come out of the Public Works Operations and Maintenance budget.

Newkirk sees the renovated playground as the first step in the renewal of Waterfront Park, which has had funds allocated to install permanent restrooms there.

“We as a staff are really excited about this project,” he said. “It’s a really good opportunity to share a visible aspect of what we do.”

–Tina Lieu

Economist: sunny forecast

When Bainbridge economist Doug Pedersen looks into his crystal ball he sees a rosy future tinged with green.

“In the Puget Sound, economic activity, jobs and incomes should increase at a pretty good clip,” Pedersen predicted Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce.

A partner with the Seattle-based Conway-Pedersen Economics, the veteran economist expects the number of jobs in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties to increase by 2.6 percent while personal income grows by almost 6 percent this year.

Pedersen believes the Puget Sound economy is pulling out of the economic free-fall that cost the region about 80,000 jobs in the last three years.

“We’ve had big downturns in the aerospace industry, from the national recession and the dotcom bust,” he said. “But now we’re experiencing growth not seen since 1998.”

While employment rebounded from earlier losses, other state economists point out that the new jobs typically offer lower wages and decreased health coverage. Many better-paying jobs were lost when Boeing cut 50,000 jobs in Washington state between 1998 and 2003.

Pedersen said Boeing has hinted at new hires, which could offer a ray of hope for the state’s lagging manufacturing sector. But most of the region’s growth should spring from retail, health care and software industries, he said.

The region’s economy is one of the healthiest, he said, with the four-county area’s economic growth “substantially out-performing” the national rate. The area’s unemployment rate dropped to about 4.9 percent in December while the nation’s rate stagnated at 5.4 percent.

But America’s gloomy economic forecast could mean increasing cloud-breaks for Washington businesses.

“We should benefit from the weak dollar since we’re such a trade-dependent area,” he said.

– Tristan Baurick

Super Supper on the move

Delicious, warm food can make a good supper, but a Super Supper opens hearts.

For nearly 20 years, island church groups have quietly taken turns preparing suppers the last five working nights each month to help people whose paycheck runs out before the month ends.

No reservations are needed for the potluck-like buffet; as few as eight to 10 or as many as 40 may show up on any particular night.

“That’s just the nature of the program,” said Marilyn Gremse, spokesperson for Helpline House. “It’s an open heart. Whether people come or not, it’s there. It’s a ministry to people in its own way.”

For convenience, suppers have been held at 5 p.m. at Helpline House, but in March, state legislation will require food to be served in a facility with a functioning kitchen where the food is prepared.

Thus, starting in January, Super Suppers will move to Eagle Harbor Congregational Church for all five evenings, except Wednesdays when it will be at St. Cecilia Catholic Church.

Gremse sees the program as mutually beneficial for both the clients, which average 12-20 each night, and the servers who get to meet people different from themselves.

The suppers are so low key that sometimes members of a congregation don’t know their church participates in the community program.

Currently participating congregations are Cedars Unitarian-Universalist, Chavurat Shir Hayam, Congregation Kol Shalom, Eagle Harbor Congregational, Grace Episcopal, Rolling Bay Presbyterian, St. Cecilia Catholic Church and Seabold Methodist.

“It’s small scale, and truly meant to be an extension of our community’s abundance to people who can’t make their food budget stretch that far,” Gremse said.

(See related column on page A9.)

–Tina Lieu

Foundation names board

Rita Elsberry will serve as president of the executive board of the “One Call For All” drive for 2005, the group announced this week.

Other appointments in the slate of officers include: Marcia Westreich, president-elect; Susan Loggins, vice president/drive chair; Jane Sutherland, secretary; and Ron Williamson, treasurer.

New board members on the “One Call For All” drive include: David Giancola, Barb Pettit, Rob Frankland, Don Harrington, Carol Holben and Mary Hagar.

The 2005 board representatives from Bainbridge High School are Elizabeth Annis and Christina Russell.

The Bainbridge Foundation’s One Call For All drive and its Red Envelope campaign every October raise funds for island nonprofit agencies.

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