Railroad-themed park, includes three-story slide, Third Street park includes huge slide down Nob Hill
Published in the November 22 – December 5, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
As workers put the finishing touches on the soft-padding surface around the play equipment, Juliet Tellez, a 7-year-old second-grader at San Martin Gwinn Environmental Science Academy got a sneak peek at Railroad Park. Not one, not two, but three brand-new parks are set to open at the end of November in downtown Morgan Hill.
“It’s cool because of the big slides and you can climb on the big rocks,” she said of the trained-themed playground located on what use to be a parking lot on Depot Street. “It’ll be fun for kids.”
Juliet and her grandmother, Dee Tellez, have been eyeing the Railroad Park playground for the past six months as construction progressed. It includes a three-story slide structure, a train engine with tunnels to climb through, and geometric-shaped structures and a rope tree to climb. Musical-themed equipment is also included to encourage children to experiment making sounds.
“We’ve been passing by every week tracking the progress. I take my grandkids to the parks all the time,” Dee said. “I just love the fact that it’s downtown and there’s a fun place for kids. I love the fact that it’s between the shops and the new developments.”
The other two newly-built parks are located two blocks west down Third Street on the other side of Monterey Road. Creek Park built along Little Llagas Creek features a life-sized bronze sculpture of a fox by local artist Evelyn Davis and amenities for providing a more relaxing ambiance for enjoying nature. A pedestrian bridge crossing the creek was built with a $100,000 donation from the Rotary Club of Morgan Hill. From Creek Park, pedestrians can walk up West Third Street to the Nob Hill Trail Park nearby and enjoy a vista of the South Valley. Here they can exercise using parcourse machines or feel the rush of going down two curving slides built into the hill.
The city of Morgan Hill will host at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, a two-hour ribbon-cutting to celebrate with residents the completion of all three downtown parks. Mayor Steve Tate is expected to inaugurate the slides by being the first person to “officially” go down them, said Chris Ghione, community services director for the city.
The city has envisioned downtown parks for many years to promote family fun downtown. The original idea was to build only a single park at the downtown creek area behind what is now Ladera Grill. Three years ago, the city began a process of downtown “placemaking” investments to improve the quality of experience for residents and visitors as well as promote economic growth for local businesses. The process included the four-story parking structure and improvements to Monterey Road such as art work and traffic-pedestrian safety improvements. The city also worked with private firms to build new homes and retail/restaurant businesses in the downtown.
“We figured the time was right to build these parks, so we started the process then,” Ghione said. “We had multiple meetings with community members about what should go into the parks and a lot of what are in the parks now is guided by those meetings. People talked about slides on the hill and a railroad theme for equipment for the (Depot Street) park.”
In designing the $5 million project, consultants and city staff worked with downtown residents and businesses. The city found $2 million from a state grant. Besides the donation for the bridge from the Rotary, the city received other smaller grants. The rest of the money came from city park funds allocated for that purpose in the city budget.
Public art was an important component of the design for the parks. Beside Davis’s fox sculpture, the city commissioned Almaden Valley mural artist Pam Mossing to paint a train-themed mural at Railroad Park on the wall bordering the Union Pacific train tracks. It includes an engine coming out of a tunnel with a comical cow laying on the engine’s cow-catcher. A possum and hawk, dressed in train attire, are portrayed in the mural on an old-fashioned hand-car going down the tracks. Historic sites in Morgan Hill such as the downtown Methodist Church and the Villa Mira Monte estate are also on the mural Mossing painted murals on the playground’s restroom structure to turn it into a “depot station” with a raccoon selling train tickets.
“The city didn’t know what they wanted for the restrooms,” she said. “It was going to be a gray box, but I turned it into an old-fashioned train station. I researched the colors of old train stations and those are the exact colors with the walls and the trim.”
Ghione said the parks will attract visitors and residents to visit downtown. It will provide something in downtown that’s free that anyone can participate in.
Graffiti and vandalism and public safety are concerns the community expressed in developing the parks. The city installed closed-circuit television cameras to monitor inappropriate activity. The parks are designed to deal with easy clean-up of graffiti such as a special resistant coating on Mossing’s railroad-themed mural at the Railroad Park.
“The parks will be a great enhancement,” Ghione said. “They’re going to help people be healthier. They’ll be walking on the hill and using the parcourse equipment. It’s a big quality of life benefit for people in Morgan Hill.”