The Springfield Rotary Club will celebrate its centennial by helping to build the first playground in Clark County designed to be shared by children with and without disabilities.
The $300,000 project will replace the current playground just across the bridge west of Bechtle Avenue in Snyder Park and is slated to be installed in a community-build event sometime in September of 2014.
“It’s for all children, because we want the opportunity for all children to play together,” said Mel Marsh, who announced the project at the club’s Monday meeting in the Hollenbeck-Bayley Creative Arts Center.
The Rotary reports that “nearly 1,700 of the 42,000 children living in Clark and Champaign counties have disabilities that prevent them from participating at a playground that creatively addresses the developmental needs of the whole child.”
Founded in 1914, the club has a long tradition of helping children with disabilities. In addition to the well-known annual holiday celebration, the club supports an ongoing program to help children with disabilities and their families.
Rotary President Charlie Patterson said the project “fits right into our mission here, service above self.”
“I don’t know if I can put into words how excited I am about this,” said Leann Castillo, executive director of the National Trail Parks and Recreation District, which has charge of Snyder Park. “We would not be able to do something like this.”
“It’s not only going to be exciting for the Rotary Club,” she added, “but everyone in the community.”
The Rotary is counting on the excitement to help pay for the project.
Andy Bell, a Rotarian heading the fundraising, announced the project is being seeded with $50,000 from the Rotary Foundation and challenged club members to raise an additional $100,000.
“Raise your hands if you don’t think this is a worthwhile project,” Bell said to Rotarians Monday.
“I’d really like to get this fundraising campaign done in the next month or so,” then be able to ask the community to help finish the project by demonstrating “we have 100 percent participation,” Bell said.
With that and the merits of the project, he said, he’ll be happy to reach out into the community for the remaining $150,000. An endowment will ensure the playground is properly maintained.
The project will culminate in the recruitment and training of Rotarians and other community members to build the playground.
Bob Grieweof David Williams and Associates, the contractor for the work, said in the 100 or so community builds he’s participated in since his company formed in 1987, the result has been the same: “It literally changes the culture of the area.”
“When you involve the community in the construction phase, the community takes ownership,” he said. “It’s so exciting.”
He underscored another aspect of accessibility he learned at Fort Campbell, Ky., when an injured soldier told him the playground there would make it possible for him to play with his children.
“It’s not just the child getting access. It’s grandpa, grandma, mom, dad,” Griewe said. “There will be a lot of satisfied people in this community.
“To my knowledge, the only universally accessible playgrounds even close to here are in Dayton and Columbus.”
Jared Taylor, one of two local teachers of developmentally disabled students on the project committee, said the playground will be a great resources for his students, particularly those with sensory deprivation issues.
The bright colors, a music station, equipment with a greater measure of safety — all are important, he said.
Taylor also said one piece of equipment that will allow a single child to spin by themselves in a part of the playground will be important for children who want to feel included, but at a comfortable distance.
“I’m so happy Springfield’s going to have this,” he said. “I can’t wait to take my kids on their first field trip there.”
Marsh said one of the key elements of the playground is the surface area, which will be made of a poured plastic.
When ground is covered by gravel or mulch, “you can’t put a wheelchair on it,” she said, and walking can be difficult, too.
She said the poured plastic has two pluses: “You can walk on it, and if you fall down, it’s soft.”
Plans are also being made to have a garden near the playground to provide a variety of fragrances and textures for children to experience and to draw butterflies and birds.
“We want families to have a great time together in this garden,” she said.