COLUMBIA — The largest playground in Columbia's park system is about to become its own time machine.
The playground in Cosmopolitan Park, named for a charter member of the Cosmopolitan Luncheon Club, S.C. Steinberg, includes two sets of swings, side-by-side tube slides, large rubber tires that children can climb on and a wooden play structure with a bridge and more twisting slides.
Senior park planner Matt Boehner said a lot of the structures in the 16-year-old playground are dated, and the age of the equipment makes it impossible to update one section at a time.
"The manufacturer doesn't make replacement parts anymore, so we can't just buy individual pieces," Boehner said.
Parks and recreation staff plan to take advantage of the need for new equipment and introduce a "Steinberg Time Machine" theme. One side of the playground will have a prehistoric, natural theme, while the other side will have a more futuristic, time-travel feel.
"We wanted to create a play experience that's not the same on both sides," Boehner said.
The public is invited to share ideas about the playground plans during meetings from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Activity and Recreation Center, 1701 W. Ash St., and from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Steinberg Playground in Cosmo Park, 1615 Business Loop 70 W.
Boehner also said that particular attention will be paid to the side-by-side slides, which are one of the playground's most popular features. The goal is to make an already well-liked attraction more fun and interactive.
Park planners are also working to the make the playground more accessible for people with limited mobility by installing solid rubber surfacing instead of wood chips and multiple sidewalks.
"The plan is to add wheelchair accessible surfacing in one area, and more walkways leading down to the playground," Boehner said. "We want to encourage more inclusive and accessible play."
Parents with children using the playground Sunday agreed that Steinberg was a big draw for their families, and a few offered suggestions.
"A few more tables would be good, but other than that for us it's very nice," said Todd Sanders, who watched his children as they raced down the tube slides.
Danielle Binggeli noted the aging bridge and said the playground was one of her favorites.
"I do hope that the bridge gets redone since it is pretty wobbly," Binggeli said. "Still, the playground is great. We've been here three or four times and we like this better than any other parks around here."
The budget for the project is $500,000, which will be funded by the parks sales tax, which was extended by voters in 2010. The sales tax is for local parks, and is applied to all retail sales made within the city of Columbia.
Planners are hoping to have City Council approval by September, and then begin maintenance and infrastructure repairs. The goal for completion is summer 2014.
Supervising editor is John Schneller.