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Landscape architect designs playground for her Hamburg hometown

Lynn Mason was in sixth grade when the Hamburg Community Playground was built in 1990.

“My kids learned how to climb up and down stairs at this playground,” she said from the site this week.

Mason is a landscape architect in the Buffalo office of Central New York-based Parkitects. Her children – Mikayla, Jacob and Sadie Mason, 7, 5, 3, respectively – like to believe their mother designs playgrounds all across Western New York just for them. They were none to pleased last year when they learned she was part of the plan to remove their favorite playground.

“There were tears shed because they love this playground,” Mason said. “I love it just as much as they do,” she said. “I told them, ‘We’re going to put something back equally as cool.’ ”

Mason joined the Hamburg Community Playground Committee when she discovered village and civic leaders were interested in replacing the beloved playground sandwiched between Highland and Prospect avenues. She and her family, including husband, David, a fellow architect, have helped with fundraisers designed to help cover the $450,000 cost. They also look to be part of the community build next spring that will bring the new structure to life.

The Hamburg Community Playground Committee has raised about $375,000 – including a $200,000 state grant through Assemblyman Sean Ryan – and has several large fundraisers planned this fall. The first is a Farewell to the Playground Chiavetta’s Chicken BBQ Sept. 17 at the playground site, 107 Prospect Ave. For more information, visit

Mason has attended dozens of community events and planning meetings to explain how she and her company have designed and will help in the effort. She’s thrown herself into the work because this is her hometown.

“I’m visible in the community – I’m involved in my kids’ schools, I’m a Girl Scout troop leader – so if people don’t like it, they know where to find me,” said Mason, 38, who holds a master’s in architecture from the University at Buffalo and a master’s in landscape architecture from California Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Q. When did you decide you wanted to be and architect?

As a kid. I loved building things, drawing things. I loved math, mixing art and mathematics into one thing. Then I had a couple of professors at the UB who were landscape architects and had some unique projects that incorporated site design and I really found a passion for designing things in the outdoor world instead of structures. That’s how I became a landscape architect.

Q. How does this differ from designing houses, buildings, structures?

It’s more encompassing. Instead of working on a building for a limited use, instead you’re designing everything that someone can be in anytime of day, anytime of year. I always loved Monticello as a kid and now I know why. Thomas Jefferson was a landscape architect. He designed the University of Virginia campus.

Q. What are some of the first places you designed?

I did most of the Buffalo Public School rehabilitation projects with LP Ciminelli.

Q. Can you talk about some of the features of the new Hamburg Community Playground?

It follows almost the same 14,000-square-foot footprint. We wanted to make sure it was all-inclusive, for kids ages 2 to 12 and for all abilities. We’re really paying homage to the existing one, picking similar color palettes, similar pieces with the roofs, incorporating pieces the kids really like. ... It will have a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round. Tunnel climbers, a rock cave, ziplines. A flywheel spinner, roller table, accessible swings. A tic-tac-toe panel. Accessible ramps and bridges. We did a belt bridge similar to what we have on the current one. We have five different slides, the same number that are here now.

We incorporated a seat wall around much of the playground border, which will give people a place to sit and prevent kids from darting out in the road. We’re going to have fitness equipment, too, really making it a multigenerational park. It will be exercise equipment for ages 13-plus. It will include a stretching machine, steppers, a pull-up and dip machine and a stand-up, pushup and row machine. It will run along the 2- to 5-year-old area and basketball court.

What we have noticed over the years is that so many more grandparents are taking their little grandkids to the playground so it will give them something to do alongside the little ones. The basketball court is among the most popular places here, so while people are waiting for pickup games, or a game to end, it will give them something to do, too.

The cost includes the safety surfacing, replacing pea gravel with engineered wood fiber and poured-in-place rubber surfacing like at the playground at the Small Boat Harbor. We asked some people what iconic images they thought were in Hamburg and we created a storefront of the Grange Building and an ice cream store that’s been around for 50-plus years. There’s the old Palace movie theater that’s been around here forever. We’ve incorporated those for the kids at their own size, so they can play within their own little Hamburg village. We even have a roundabout and trolley car for the kids to play on...

The original piers to the original playground are staying, with the original date and logo, and we are making a duplicate set on the other side. When they built it, there were two logos, so we’re using the logo they did not choose on the other side. We’ll have donor bricks on the piers, too.

Q. Will there be a name change?

Wood chips and poured-in-place rubber will replace pea gravel as the Hamburg Community Playground surfacing, Lynn Mason said, and even though there will be no wood in the equipment, she suspects many will still call the new spot 'The Wooden Playground.'

Wood chips and poured-in-place rubber will replace pea gravel as the Hamburg Community Playground surfacing, Lynn Mason said, and even though there will be no wood in the equipment, she suspects many will still call the new spot 'The Wooden Playground.' (Photos by Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

It’s known as the Hamburg Community Playground, or affectionately known as the Wooden Playground. We still think people will call it that because, in our opinion, it will still sort of look like it. It will still have the same turrets and towers (but will not be made with wood).

Q. You’ve tried to keep as much of the original character of the playground?

Yes. That was something people really wanted when the committee went through the design process. We held three design days with the community – two at the elementary schools in the village – and we had the kids pick and vote on the pieces they liked. We had them vote on the pieces they liked most at the existing playground, and when we went into the design of the new playground we incorporated a lot of their input. We also asked parents what they liked or disliked about the existing playground, and incorporated that in the design, too.

We worked around the basketball court, around the existing trees (including a silver maple in the midst of the playground). We bumped the size of the playground out a bit on the Highland Avenue Side to incorporate two ziplines. They are 34 feet and can hold an adult. There are two types: a disc-type for someone who can sit on it and hold on, and a molded bucket seat so kids who have limited trunk support or disabilities can zip along next to their friends.

We have an accessible swing area. They used to have one but they took it out. We wanted to make sure we included a lot of play pieces for kids with disabilities. We really focused on kids with autism and sensory processing disorder, too, so there’s lots of tactile things and places kids can go for what we refer to as a “time in.” If they’re overstimulated on the playground, there are places they can go and regroup, like a little rock cave and a couple seating areas underneath the deck.

Q. What are some other playgrounds you and Parkitects have helped design and build?

The Outer Harbor is ours. The big ship in the middle is our piece and there’s some other manufacturers who have some pieces in there. We did Tapestry Charter School, Notre Dame Academy in South Buffalo. We just did GLP Elementary School in Eden and North Collins Elementary School. There’s ones out in Swormville. We do stuff around Chautauqua Lake. We’re doing quite a bit in Salamanca. We do stuff out to the Finger Lakes. Our main office is in Lansing, New York, and they cover central and eastern New York toward the Albany area. They’re replacing a structure in Watertown after many years of debate, the same process up there as we’ve gone through in Hamburg.

Q. What will happen to the pieces in the existing playground?

In 2000-01, the pressure-treated wood that it was made with was banned because the material has (trace amounts of) arsenic in it, so when it’s taken out it will be disposed of. The village has done its due diligence and sealed it every year. It’s been tested and never had the levels to warrant removal. The playground will be removed this fall as part of the Hamburg Healthy Neighborhoods Corridor/Safe Route to School Project while they are removing the sidewalks along Highland and Prospect.  The project will run past the playground all the way from the traffic circle at Main and Center to the high school and middle school athletic fields, putting in 5-foot-wide sidewalks with signage areas and seating along the way.  Work on the overall project will start in September.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon


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