By Emily Fitzgerald
For the first time in over a year, groups of families with children could be seen playing at Penny Playground on Friday.
The chain-linked fencing surrounding the beloved Chehalis playground came down around 11 a.m. on May 14 and children immediately took to the newly-renovated and repaired play equipment to enjoy the sunny spring day.
“The opening of the playground is a tribute to this community and a tribute to the city council, Lewis County and the staff that has worked on it,” said Chehalis City Manager Jill Anderson.
“There’s just so many people to thank in this very important endeavor. Every, every person who has supported this project in any way is a part of this really fantastic park.”
The reopening comes two months after the city began work to repair over $150,000 in damage done to playground equipment, underground infrastructure and sections of turf by a hit-and-run driver in late January. Juan F. Cozar, 23, was officially referred to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office on driving under the influence and hit-and-run charges after the Chehalis Police Department received toxicology test results earlier this week.
“It was an unfortunate accident, and while we don’t necessarily want to focus on it, it was a setback for the playground, but it was taken care of as quickly as possible,” said Chehalis Foundation President Jenny Collins. “We were able to get contractors back in to do the work that they needed to do, and it gave us the opportunity to view the playground in a different light.”
In addition to repairing the damage allegedly done in the hit-and-run, workers installed additional safety measures to hopefully protect the park if another driver attempts to drive through it, and installed another shade shelter.
“The additional time was a blessing in disguise,” Anderson said.
The decision to open Penny Playground to the public on Friday was partially due to the fact that repairs were completed, and partially because COVID-19 concerns “are becoming more manageable as we approach reopening as a state,” said Anderson.
“It is an outdoor activity and it is a very large facility, so hopefully we can maintain social distancing. We are encouraging people to wear masks if they are not vaccinated, wash their hands and continue to take the appropriate precautions.”
Friday was the first chance children had to enjoy the playground with the improvements completed last year, which included installation of turf on the four ballfields, replacement of the roughly 25-year-old Penny Playground equipment, installation of all-weather walkways through the park, and more.
The park was closed due to construction up until early 2021, and then the accident kept the park closed until the damage could be cleaned and repaired.
“Penny Playground has long been a central hub and a place of great joy for Chehalis and area residents,” Collins said. “The history of the park, with the traditions and memories of families who live and visit here have immense value and this place is a blessing to all those who visit here, past, present and well into the future.”
The city of Chehalis hopes to hold an official community reopening celebration later this summer, Anderson said.
“In the meantime,” she said, “we hope everybody can go out … and have some fun at Penny Playground.”