There’s this thing about playgrounds: it’s really difficult to keep children away from them. Last week, Spokane’s first public universal playground was carefully wrapped in red ribbon, yet children found ways to get in and play anyhow while about two dozen grown-ups milled around waiting for the official business.
Sandi Laney was one of the people who got behind a grass-roots effort to build a playground that appeals to all children, yet is completely accessible for children with disabilities.
“That was back in 2003 and I was working at the Health District at the time,” said Laney. “I was a dietitian there, and my focus was children with special health care needs.” Laney found that many of the families with special needs children were isolated.
“We got a parent group together and began planning for a playground where the whole family could come,” said Laney.
The universal playground is located in the southwest corner of Mission Park on Spokane’s North Side, where it’s connected to the existing playground and close to a parking lot, a picnic shelter, bathrooms and the Centennial Trail.
“This is an optimal location,” Laney said. “Originally, it was to go in Riverfront Park, but this is a great spot – it’s very central to the city.”
Heleen Dewey of the Spokane Regional Health District explained that someone else had to undertake the fundraising for the project, which is where Rotaract Club of Spokane came in.
“We were the primary fundraisers for the playground,” said Neil Muller, past president of Rotaract Club of Spokane and master of ceremonies at the ribbon cutting. “We raised money via the Junior Lilac Parade. We asked Rotary Clubs for money, and we applied for some grants.”
All together Rotaract raised $80,000, but Muller said in-kind donations of labor and materials put the total price of the project well above $100,000.
“We kind of lost track of the donated labor and materials, we just said ‘OK’ when people called,” said Muller. “It’s amazing how many volunteers helped us out with this.”
Besides the city of Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, the Parks Foundation and Spokane Regional Health District, more than a dozen local organizations and businesses, including Garco Construction, Mountain Gear, Safeco and Hollister Stier, helped bring the playground to fruition.
When it was time for the ribbon cutting it was Zoe Osborne, 7, who got to do the scissoring with the help of Dewey.
“I’ve always been a big proponent of inclusion,” said Darci Osborne, Zoe’s mom. “Zoe has mobility issues, she’s walked for about two years and it’s really hard for her to walk in the woodchips – she just goes down.”
The universal playground is covered in recycled rubber tiles making the surface flat and smooth and bouncy.
“It really is a safe environment,” said Darci Osborne. “We avoided playgrounds because I always had to be so involved in that, helping her. So her play was always very structured at school or therapy.”
Here, Darci Osborne said, Zoe can go exploring on her own.
A ramp makes it possible for children in wheelchairs or with walkers to access the top of the playground, which also has slides and a climbing wall, much like any other playground. A low chain link fence on three sides – the fourth side opens up to the existing playground – makes it so children can’t wander off into the park.
“I’m sure we will be coming here to play – it’s a great location,” Darci Osborne said.