Playground opens, work continues on tennis courts

There was a grand opening for the new playground at Pioneer Park in Billings on Friday, even as work continued on all-new tennis courts in another corner of the park.

Work continued as well on a new playground at South Park and another tennis-court replacement, this one at Castle Rock Park in the Heights.

All four projects, with a price tag of just over $1.1 million, are being paid for out of the citywide park district created by the City Council in 2011 to address $9 million in deferred maintenance at city parks.

There have been many other projects since the district was created, but these are some of the highest-profile projects yet, and they are going in at some of the city’s biggest, most popular parks.

The Pioneer Park playground, which cost $280,000, had its grand opening at 1 p.m., complete with a balloon release and speeches by a smattering of city officials and elected dignitaries.

The playground features a small area for children 2 to 5 years old and an area for older kids with all kinds of state-of-the-art attractions, including an enormous climbing contraption full of ropes and coils. There is also an Expression Swing (yes, it’s a trademark) that allows an adult to swing facing a young child in a baby seat. You can see it in action by clicking here.

The South Park playground, with a price tag of $255,000, will be similar to the one at Pioneer, though with some different features. Jon Thompson, parks superintendent for the city Department of Parks and Recreation, said if all goes well, it will open by the middle of next week.

The new tennis court projects have a combined price tag of $605,000 and entail tearing up the old surfaces and laying new “post-tensioned concrete” courts. Both courts were badly in need of replacement.

The courts at Pioneer were ancient, full of cracks and weeds, and the courts at Castle Rock, which sat atop unstable ground, developed very large cracks that resulted in closure of the courts several years ago.

As Thompson explained it, the post-tensioned concrete works by laying steel cables throughout the concrete. The cables project out on the edges of the concrete and they are slowly tightened with bolts as the concrete cures, for as long as a month. The process makes the whole slab of concrete “float” as a unit, so that if there is ground movement or freeze-thaw contraction and expansion, the whole unit moves, rather than developing cracks.


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Spools of steel cable are stacked up outside the tennis courts at Pioneer Park. The cables are used to strengthen the concrete surface and to prevent cracking.

The general contractor is Good Earth Works, of Billings, with most of the work being done by Tennis and Track Co. out of Salt Lake City.

Concrete forms are already in place at the Pioneer Park courts, while filling and leveling is still taking place at Castle Rock.

“This outfit is really going to town,” Thompson said of the contractor.

Under its contract with the city, Tennis and Track has until the end of November to finish both projects, Thompson said, but if the weather cooperates the courts could be ready by early to mid-November.

Meanwhile, engineering work is continuing on what will be the big parks project next year: an elaborate new spray park at South Park. That project could go out for bids within a month, Thompson said, and up to $500,000 has been budgeted for the spray park.

Part of the high cost is that new regulations require spray parks, like swimming pools, to have a holding tank, and when water is sprayed out it doesn’t simply drain out into the stormwater system. Instead, it will be filtered and treated and put back in the holding tank for re-use.

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