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Give your input on park plans

A survey on Coffey Park plans is available online at SRCity.org/Coffey-Project. It must be completed by Jan. 7.

Fire-resistant plants, a waterfall, wildlife habitat, dog park, dinosaur slide and play areas for kids of all ages were laid out in detail in Coffey Park designs drafted by fourth-graders at Schaefer Charter School.

The students created a PowerPoint slide and maps of their plans for the nearly 6-acre park, burned last year in the Tubbs fire, and presented them this month to the Piner-Olivet school board and the Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks department.

Architects hired to design the park say the kids’ input could have an impact on the final plan.

The fourth-graders spent about a month working on their designs for Coffey Park, integrating math, science, art and problem-solving skills. Students said the project was not just academic, but personal.

The Tubbs fire damaged two playgrounds, picnic areas and landscaping at the park, and leveled the surrounding neighborhood. Just two blocks down on Coffey Lane, Schaefer Charter School was spared, though the campus closed for months during cleanup of toxic materials.

“They’ve worked incredibly hard. They’ve showed amazing perseverance,” fourth-grade teacher Tawnya Martin said about the students. “I think they were just really motivated because they knew it was a real thing that was happening.”

The students presented their designs to the Piner-Olivet school board Dec. 13. Ella Way, 9, also presented the plans at a Santa Rosa Recreation and Park meeting Dec. 15 after being encouraged by her father, John Way, a school board member.

The students want fire- resistant flora, including red monkey flower, sage and California lilacs and fuchsia, as well as redwood, blue oak and black oak trees. Native plants like the California poppy and calliandra also were requested.

They researched playground equipment brands, sizes and costs — everything from a $3,500 handicapped-accessible swingset to a fire-truck seesaw for toddlers “to represent the firefighters for helping us.” They learned how to make a map to scale and about the need for a 50-foot clearance between dog parks and houses.

“I was frankly blown away. Overall, it was impressive,” said Curt Nichols, landscape architect at Carlile Macy, the Santa Rosa-based firm hired to design the park.

Nichols said native plants were incorporated into his design proposals after seeing the students’ suggestions. The fourth-graders have a voice in the plans, just like other community members, he said.

For 31 years, Nichols had lived just two blocks from Coffey Park, but he lost his home in the wildfire.

“It’s very close to home literally and figuratively,” said Nichols, who plans to rebuild his home.

Ella Way recalled visiting the Coffey Park every day in the week leading up to the fire. She enjoyed playing hide-and-seek with her brother and neighbors.

“I was sad because I thought once the smoke cleared up we could at least go to the park, but we couldn’t. It was damaged,” the fourth-grader said.

Play structures are still standing in Coffey Park, but are closed off with orange netting because they’re “structurally unsound,” said Kristi Buffo, Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks marketing and outreach coordinator.

Also, the grass at the park remains littered with metal and glass debris from the fire.

Give your input on park plans

A survey on Coffey Park plans is available online at SRCity.org/Coffey-Project. It must be completed by Jan. 7.

Buffo said the parks board was impressed with the fourth-graders’ designs.

“It’s just really refreshing to see the ideas of youth because they aren’t afraid to dream big,” she said. “That exuberance just breathes life into the process and what we’re doing.”

Construction of the park could be completed by the end of next year, Buffo said.

Brian Bushon, a member of the Coffey Strong neighborhood group and a parent of a Schaefer student, attended the parks meeting. He wants kids to have a say in the designs.

“They were listened to,” he said. “They were respected. I’m hopeful that moving forward, we’ll have lots of their ideas implemented.”

When Kathy Harris was hired as Schaefer’s new principal over the summer, her first call was to city parks director Jen Santos. They worked on getting more student input on Coffey Park design projects, including from second-graders.

“People want to know what kids are thinking, and kids love the opportunity to think about real-world problems and be part of the solution,” Harris said.

For many Schaefer students, the bustle of new construction in the neighborhood instills hope for the future.

Laila Chitwood, a fourth-grader, had lived near Coffey Park on Dogwood Drive since birth. The Tubbs fire destroyed her family’s home, which they’ve rebuilt and will move into in about four weeks.

“I’m getting my own bedroom. It’s going to be a lot nicer,” said Chitwood, 9.

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

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