LAKE STEVENS — Years of memories embedded in the sun-faded spires, talk tubes and wooden walls of Kids’ Oasis came crumbling down Thursday morning.
The unique playground was demolished due to the cost to make the necessary repairs to keep it safe, according to the Lake Stevens School District.
“It’s weird,” Lake Stevens resident Gabe Schmuck said, looking at the empty wooden castle Wednesday afternoon. “I figured it’d be here forever. And I know nothing lasts forever, but you get used to something being here and then suddenly it’s not — it creates a big hole.”
Schmuck, 36, still remembers his 8-year-old self struggling to climb from a tire swing onto the wooden fort, and as he grew up, bringing his younger siblings and nephews to do the same.
The wooden castle playground off 20th Street NE, near Mt. Pilchuck Elementary School, became a staple for many local families over its 29-year existence.
“I was in kindergarten back in ’93-’94 and I remember going down there,” said Michael Mashburn, longtime Snohomish County resident. “It’s just a cool playground.”
Less than a week before demolition began, Lake Stevens School District sent families an email and shared a statement on social media that said neither the district nor the city was able to absorb the costs of repairs, said to exceed $350,000. The district said playgrounds similar to this usually have a life expectancy of around 20 years.
“Additionally, due to liability issues, we are unable to have a community rebuild without significant oversight from the builder, which is also very costly,” the district wrote.
Late this summer, the district will launch a survey to gauge public interest in a replacement playground. No school district representatives were available to comment on the demolition.
“My sister-in-law sent me a screenshot of the email that the district sent out — it’s just kind of sad,” Mashburn said. “I know it’s a big deal for the community — to the Lake Stevens family.”
The name Kids’ Oasis came from Melissa Lee, a third-grade student at Sunnycrest in 1992, according to a clipping of the March 25, 1992 edition of the Lake Stevens Journal, shared by the Lake Stevens Historical Museum on Facebook.
“Melissa (Lee) says she got the idea while playing a board game with her dad. ‘I liked the meaning,’” the Journal reported.
Reached by phone in Oklahoma, Lee said she first stumbled upon the name after flipping through a dictionary and thesaurus.
“I remember being really excited,” she said Thursday afternoon. “I got some kind of certificate or something, and my picture was in the newspaper. It was a big deal.”
Lee’s entry was among 574 submitted by Lake Stevens students.
Costing around $150,000, the playground was built in 1992 in a joint effort between the school district, city, numerous community members and local businesses.
According to the Journal, everything about the wooden castle was unlike any other. The metal twist slide was imported from Europe and the walls of the castle were made of special dense southern yellow pine.
People of all walks of life rallied to raise money for its construction.
“Kids’ Oasis represents the best in a community, welding environmentalists with developers, Republicans with Democrats, newcomers with natives,” the Journal reported.
On Monday, Schmuck went out to the playground to photograph some of the placards honoring the families and businesses that donated or helped in the construction of the castle.
Among the names posted on the playground’s worn timber were former Superior Court Judge David Hulbert, the Mashock family, the Hargrove family, the Buzz Inn Steakhouse, Mt. Pilchuck Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, the former Timberline Cafe in Granite Falls and Craven Insurance.
Dozens of volunteers worked four- to five-hour shifts over a weekend to build the wooden castle, the Journal reported, with on-site meals provided by local stores and restaurants. Jay’s, the downtown grocery store, allowed volunteers to use their walk-in refrigerator to store the food.
Lake Stevens residents Sally Chafin and Neal Dooley were among those preparing food for the volunteers.
“I’ve never been a part of a community quite like that before,” Chafin said. “That grassroots kind of thing. Everybody brought in saws or hammers and their cupcakes and a fresh pot of coffee and they all got together and hammered and sawed — it was great.”
Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.