Highland families with children or adults with disabilities will have a new place to play later this month, as final touches are made on the city’s first playground built for people of all ages and abilities.
After almost a year of planning, Highland Parks and Recreation Director Mark Rosen said the first phase of the city’s new all-abilities playground, located at Dennis H. Rinderer Park on Veterans Honor Parkway, has been completed. He said he expects the playground to be open by mid-November and ready to use.
All-abilities playgrounds offer inclusive play opportunities for children of all ages and abilities by including sections that help develop physical, social, cognitive and sensory abilities. Rosen said while all of Highland’s parks meet ADA standards, this playground goes far beyond those requirements.
The first phase of construction cost about $232,000 and includes the main, four-sided, playground structure, with slides and wheelchair accessibility. This phase also included installing a Rock-n-Ship, which is a wheelchair-accessible teeter-totter and surfacing around the playground.
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Rosen said the project wouldn’t have been possible without donations coming in from organizations and individuals around Highland. He said more than $100,000 have been raised through donations for the playground.
“I’ve just been overwhelmed with how people have just come forward and were willing to just donate and offer their help with the construction. It’s all kind of snowballed into where we’re at now.”
The city also received $30,000 from The Disney Corporation through the National Recreation & Parks Association to help build the first phase of the playground and Rosen said he’s currently applying for grants to pay for the second phase.
That grant came with some stipulations, including the requirement that the project would have to have volunteer or donated work to be eligible for the money. To meet this requirement, local Laborers have also donated about $50,000 worth of work to excavate, pour concrete and assist with installation. In addition to volunteer work, the city had to finish the first phase of the project’s construction by Nov. 1; otherwise, it would be ineligible for the money.
Why the playground is needed
To better inform the city of what the playground would need, Rosen formed a committee of Highland residents who deal with disabilities on a daily basis. Highland resident and occupational therapist Lindsey Bean was one of the members of that committee.
“I work with people every day, mostly adults, who have disabilities,” Bean said. “So this is a project that is really near and dear to my heart. To have this kind of playground in Highland is a big deal.”
Bean said all ability playgrounds are becoming increasingly popular and easier to find. But, she noted, not every town has the luxury to have the playgrounds. Those who do, she said, are giving their local children and parents with disabilities an opportunity to play alongside their peers.
“A playground that is built in such a way that you’re not even able to get on it makes you different right away,” Bean said. “For kids to have a place to just play and be with other kids and be themselves is a big deal.”
These playgrounds remove a barrier for children with disabilities especially, Bean said. She said growing up with a disability can be difficult as is, but providing a playground that allows disabled children to be themselves and not have to feel different.
Bean said the playground also removes a barrier for parents with disabilities, who typically wouldn’t be able to join their children while they play. The playground is designed specifically for both children and adults to play on.
Phase two of project begins in 2019
While the first phase is complete and will be ready to use this month, Rosen said there are still features to be added during the second phase. That includes wheelchair-accessible zip-lines, a merry-go-round, swings, and more surfacing.
The second phase is scheduled to begin in spring of 2019 and will cost about $140,000.
Rosen said going forward, the parks and recreation department will be keeping children and parents with special needs in mind when they build.
“For me, its made me more aware of the need for such facilities,” Rosen said. “At our future playgrounds, there will be a lot more focus on all-abilities or special needs, as opposed to just buying a set that fulfills requirements. It’s going to force us to look at providing more opportunities for those with special needs.”
Bean said that’s a step in the right direction and a change in mindset that will give a lot of people with disabilities a chance to be included in ways they haven’t been before.
Highland is obviously recognizing the importance of this. Barriers create disabilities. It’s not actually the person that they can’t walk. It’s the fact that we have stairs everywhere or big curb cuts. So putting more of the focus on a built environment and building an inclusive environment.”