The final design for Gronk Playground – a new public amenity planned for the Esplanade and made possible via a financial gift from former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski – was unveiled during a virtual meeting sponsored by the Department of Conservation and Recreation on Thursday, Nov. 2.
In May of 2021, Gronkowski and his Gronk Nation Youth Foundation made a $1.2 million donation to DCR and the nonprofit Esplanade Association to fund a complete renovation of Charlesbank Playground, which is located on the Charles River adjacent to the Alfond Memorial Spray Deck on the Esplanade.
In addition to Gronkowski and his charitable organization, along with DCR and the Esplanade Association, the project team also includes landscape architect and prime consultant, Shadley Associates; arborist, Bartlett Tree Experts; and civil engineer, Nitsch Engineering.
For the project, the gate that separates the spraydeck from the existing playground will be removed as the playground is extended into the existing lawn area, said Skyler Chick of Shadley Associates, while the river walkways will remain in much the same configuration as they are today.
The existing lawn between the playground and the spraydeck will be reconstructed to include a new walkway, said Chick, while existing asphalt walkways would be replaced using poured-in rubber. ADA-accessible picnic tables that sit atop rubber pads will also be installed, he said, as would additional Shurcliff benches along the edges of the site.
A “critical goal of the project,” meanwhile, is to protect and preserve the site’s existing trees, said Chick, so construction work would be minimal on the “critical root zone,” with limited demolition and no heavy equipment permitted in those areas. Five new shade trees will also be planted on site as part of the project, he added.
Playground elements will be clustered together, with equipment for ages 2-5 located on the site’s southern portion, and equipment for ages 5-12 located in another section of the 100-percent ADA-accessible playground, said Chick, although children would be able to move freely between the two sections due to the new playground’s open layout.
The largest structure for ages 2-5 will be a custom feature that resembles a “football being spiked,” and which Gronkowski himself likened to a “rocket ship” said Sandra Libby, DCR playground planner. Due to its large size, this piece of equipment would be assembled at the factory and then transported via truck to the playground, where it will be set in place using a crane, she said.
The Gronk High-5 Low-5 element would feature a life-size likeness of 6-foot, 6-inch Gronkowski, said Libby, with one hand extended upwards to a height of 8 feet and the other reaching down to allow park-goers to “slap hands” with the former football star.
The playground will also feature three Duck Boat models, with a naming contest for the largest one now ongoing on Gronkowski’s social media accounts. (Visit Gronkowski’s Instagram account at @gronk to learn more about the Duck Boat naming contest.)
Also, a “Bridge Climber” element for ages 2-5 would be modeled after the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge to help give the playground “a Boston context,” said Libby.
Moreover, a merry-go-round located near the main entrance would be flush with the ground to allow for wheelchair access, said Libby, while a 40-yard dash feature would also align with “the fitness theme through all the different elements.”
Other proposed playground elements include a “Spring Rider”; various swings (i.e. group swings, toddler swings, and individual swings); a group seesaw; an “Overhead Spinner’; a rope climb; and large panels adorned with inspirational quotes from 14 famous athletes, including Gronkowski and his erstwhile teammate, former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
The playground equipment would likely be ordered in December, followed by a 12-month lead time to manufacture it. The equipment would then be installed as soon as weather permits, said Libby, before the new playground can open.
DCR is accepting public comments on this project through Nov. 16 online at www.mass.gov/dcr/public-comment.