17 August 2008

Kid Connection ready for action

After months of planning and construction, the Shelbyville Parks and Recreation Department and the Blue River Community Foundation are ready to open the Kid Connection playground in Kennedy Park.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5 p.m. on Wednesday will mark the official opening, and the public is invited to see what the new play area has to offer.

Although all the children in the community will be able to use the new recreation area, this playground was planned specifically to meet the needs of disabled children. Children and adults confined to wheelchairs - or simply those with mobility limitations - were virtually barred from most of the playgrounds in Shelbyville because it was too difficult to get to the play equipment, and much of the equipment was geared only to children without disabilities.

Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony is open to anyone who chooses to attend, but invitations have been sent to Shares Inc., Especially Kidz and the Blue River Special Education Cooperative so as many people with disabilities as possible will hear about the new playground and attend the celebration.

As executive director of the Blue River Community Foundation, Susan Furgeson's attention was caught in February 2007 when she heard about a $160,000 grant through the Kellogg Foundation to provide funds for improving access for people with disabilities to the city's parks systems. The BRCF needed to partner with a recreation provider before pursuing the grant, and the director of Shelbyville Parks and Recreation, Karen Martin, was excited about the idea from the beginning.

In October 2007, Furgeson was notified that Shelbyville had received the grant - then the hard work really began.

Everyone plays

Furgeson and Martin began working on a design for the playground that would focus on activities that disabled children and adults could enjoy, but the Kellogg Foundation quickly told them that the park must utilize "universal design."

"This was a learning process for all of us," Furgeson said. "We were thinking only about a playground for disabled children, but the Kellogg Foundation wanted a playground where kids of all ability levels could play together side-by-side."

Knowing that the concept of universal design was difficult for its grantees to understand, the Kellogg Foundation put them in touch with experts in the field. Jennifer Skulsky, a consultant with the National Center on Accessibility in Bloomington, met with the committee of community partners working on the playground design and explained how the area could appeal to all children.

Modifying the plans for the playground to include activities for children of all ability levels increased the cost of the project to $174,366, but Furgeson said it was worth it to make the playground practical for all children and adults, not just disabled ones.

She noted that sometimes disabled adults want the option of taking their children or grandchildren to the park, and Kid Connection will make that possible.

Soft landings

Some of the parks use pea gravel or mulch around the play equipment and leading up to it, but these surfaces made it very difficult to run a wheelchair. The surface under and around the Kid Connection equipment is called poured-in-place, and it is a soft rubber and urethane component that is mixed and applied on-site.

Made out of recycled tires, the surface at Kennedy Park Kid Connection is tinted green and even looks like grass from a distance. Wheelchairs can move across it easily, and if children or adults fall on the springy surface, the impact is considerably softened compared to asphalt or concrete.

The brightly colored playground equipment is guaranteed to pull the attention of children and adults of all abilities, and cement sidewalks lead from the paved parking lot so that access is guaranteed. The two towers at Kid Connection can be reached by a ramp or stairs, and most of the equipment could be enjoyed by children of any ability.

The Sway Fun swing, for example, is large enough to accommodate several wheelchairs, but children without disabilities also can sit on benches and appreciate the swinging motion.

There are even several large puzzles written in Braille that people with limited eyesight can read, but children without vision problems can read them also.

Getting the grant

To receive the $160,000, the Kellogg Foundation required grantees to come up with a match of $125,000 with $50,000 placed into an endowment fund to provide funds for future accessibility upgrades to the city's parks. The Shelbyville Parks Department committed $30,000 to the project and Shares Inc. and its subsidiary, WAP Inc., donated $15,000 each. The Shelbyville Rotary Club gave $8,000, the Beaty/C-Tech Fund, which is held at the BRCF, awarded the Kid Connection a $2,500 grant, and Makuta Technics gave $1,000. The BRCF donated donated $35,000 for a 1:2 match, which meant that for every $2 donated, the foundation donated an additional $1 up to the total $35,000.

Furgeson said on Thursday that only $15,000 more is needed to complete the match that Kellogg requires. She said that if businesses, organizations or individuals want to make a donation, they should contact her at the foundation at (317) 392-7955 or brf@blueriverfoundation.com or Martin at (317) 392-5128.

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