It was a playground fight and while there were no bloody noses, Chagrin Falls village leaders might still come out of it with a black eye.

“The fight” is a metaphor. There were no fisticuffs in the Riverside Park playground dispute but there was some flailing about with words and cries of “foul” during last week’s virtual Village Council meeting.

As of July 3, that recorded meeting had been viewed 75 times. Interest is high even though there are no villains or heroes and no wrong-doing on anyone’s part, unless failing to ask questions is classified as such.

To explain, in May, council was asked to pass legislation accepting a $20,000 grant from a private family foundation toward design of a new Riverside Park playground.

The grant made it clear that Land Studio, a nonprofit consultancy, was to choose six playground designers and present their credentials and examples of their projects. Council would then choose three finalists.

By its own description, Land Studios has “managed a wide range of public art installations, cultural programming and civic space development projects across Cleveland.”

The nonprofit organization is well-known, respected and has received a ton of kudos for its work and well-suited to the task of winnowing designers for the Riverside Park playground.

The grant would cover the cost of this preliminary work. The village does not turn down grants. Ever. But this one had strings which should have drawn council’s attention. One council person did vote “no” on a procedural issue. It would loom large later.

Last week, the three designer finalists Zoomed in for council’s third virtual meeting on the playground. They discussed their past projects, the way they work and were open to answering questions. There were none.

There were concerns when it came time for council to choose one of them. Only then did someone ask why local architects and designers had not been asked to submit their credentials for consideration.

Nor did council ask why the playground was being fast tracked or why it had to choose a designer the same meeting they heard their proposals. One council person asked for time to make in-person visits to the finalists’ completed projects.

Why the rush? It has been explained that the playground was being redesigned now because it would be relocated a few feet when the reconfigured brick path was installed.

Apparently, there is anxiety on the part of some over having to wait for the new playground, so the idea was to get it done as quickly, and the best way to do that was in conjunction with the path.

Is that assumption based in reality? If so, what are the economies in time and money?

Since the playground is to be built through public donations, who knows if the funds will be in hand in time to meet the path project? Is there a mystery philanthropist willing to front the funds?

But perhaps the biggest issue was not addressed until it came time for council to choose the designer. It came from a former council person who was none too subtle in asking if some “private group” was in charge.

Suddenly, council was engaged and decided there would be no vote on a designer until the village Parks Commission could view the designers’ presentations and make its recommendation.

But is it too late for parks commissioners to have any real say? Will they ask for a time out so local landscape architects could get involved? Probably not. The grant-driven process is too far along for that.

But stay tuned, the playground grant does not require council to make a choice.

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