A $1 million gift from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation helped to put a cherry on top of an over $2 million project to help complete the Westside Park Playground project.

Recreation Programs Manager for Missoula Parks and Recreation, Meg Whicher told KGVO about the gift that was presented on Saturday afternoon by Mike Halligan, representing the Washington Foundation.

“We were nearing our fundraising goal for the playground and for opening the Neighborhood Center and then the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation came through with that $1 million award and we were pretty excited,” said Whicher.  “Then the Giuliani family came along pretty much at the same time that really just pushed us up towards the final stages of the fundraising for the playground, so we're really hoping a year from now there's going to be a brand new playground there.”

Whicher said the Westside Park and Playground serves hundreds of families, in addition to an elementary school.

“The Westside Playground is the only playground in town that's actually a shared space,” she said. “It's the Lowell Elementary School playground as well as a city park, and that's really rare Missoula. That's the only one where the school kids actually play on and the city park as their part of their school day.”

Whicher said the playground will be available and appropriate for children of all ages and abilities.

“Not only is it one playground, it's also a toddler and Pre-K playground,” she said. “It's a play space built to accommodate two separate age groups. So it's almost like two playgrounds in one, and it's going to have a lot of climbing features including a large tower. You know, something for everyone mixed in there.”

Whicher related how the ideas of what to put in the park were gathered, especially from the children themselves.

“About two years ago, right before COVID Parks and Recreation took every kid from Lowell School, we loaded them onto buses and we headed out to playgrounds all over town,” she said. “The kids noted what they liked what and they didn't like, and dreamed up what they would be their ideal play space. From there, we started the community planning process and then the fundraising kind of kicked off and here we are on the other side of that right now.”

The City’s $350,000 contribution comes from developer impact fees and the City’s Capital Improvement Program. Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler says construction could start as soon as April 2022 with projected completion by October 2022, pending equipment, contractors, and materials availability.

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