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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Revolutionary for all of Spokane’: City unveils inclusive playground at Riverfront Park

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 23, 2020

Spokane’s newest playground is replete with state-of-the-art equipment, but Emmett Sonnemaker’s favorite amenity is simply the space to safely roll around.

Quick to point out he’s not just 5, but 5-and-a-half years old, Emmett can’t comfortably spread out across the wood chips of a typical playground.

The Providence Playscape at Riverfront Park is designed for all kids, including Emmett, who uses a wheelchair but is eager to get out of it and play.

“When we were here a few weeks ago he was just rolling around on the sidewalks and everything because usually whenever we go to a park it’s full of bark or gravel,” said Keesha Sonnemaker, Emmett’s mother. “He thought it was just so amazing – all this space.”

The completion of Providence Playscape in Riverfront Park was celebrated Friday, with Spokane officials joining Providence Health Care leaders to cut the ribbon on the city’s new inclusive playground.

“This playground really is revolutionary for all of Spokane,” Mayor Nadine Woodward said.

Measuring 11,600 square feet, Providence Playscape features more than 20 types of play pieces. The entire playground is tailored to meet the needs of children with a broad range of physical and social challenges.

A sand table offers kids tactile experiences, while a “cozy dome” provides a quiet space for retreat. Children can pull themselves through a tunnel over rolling bars that help them as they move along, or strike one of the several music-making pieces like chimes or rainmakers throughout the park.

The new playground is located on Havermale Island, just north of the Numerica Skate Ribbon in Riverfront Park.

The Sonnemaker family, residents of the city’s North Side, already has put it to the test.

Both Emmett and his younger sister, Eleanor, have spinal muscular atrophy, although it affects them differently. Eleanor’s atrophy is not as acute, but she is accident prone and struggles with balance, making it difficult for her to use standard playground equipment, too.

At many playgrounds, where kids are climbing up stairs, Emmett requires a boost from mom. Keesha Sonnemaker can become physically exhausted from hoisting Emmett.

“After two or three times up on a slide, it’s like, ‘Mom’s done,’ and then all of the fun’s over. It’s kind of a shame,” she said.

The family often doesn’t go to playgrounds at all, worried Emmett will once again ask why his older brothers can use equipment that he can’t.

“Then I feel bad for my other sons because I can’t take them to a park because he isn’t able to go,” Keesha Sonnemaker said.

The playground was funded by a $1 million donation from Providence Health Care. It operates Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane, the largest children’s hospital between Seattle and Minneapolis.

“Providence is really intent on being a part of the community and supporting the community, and our mission right now is to provide healthier communities for all,” said Peg Currie, chief operating officer of Providence Health Care.

Providence has witnessed firsthand the children and families that feel left out, Currie added.

“When we heard about this opportunity, we thought this is perfect for us,” Currie said.

California-based nonprofit Shane’s Inspiration, which creates playgrounds for children who have developmental difficulties, donated the design for Providence Playscape.

Providence Playscape is a separate project from the ice age-themed playground under construction on the north bank of Riverfront Park. That $9.3 million regional playground, slated for completion in spring 2021, is part of the broader upgrades to Riverfront Park funded by $64 million in taxpayer-supported bonds.

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