By Dedra Cordle
Visiting the local parks with her children is one of Tonya McDade’s favorite things to do.
For hours, the Grove City family is able to enjoy the outdoors, talk to friends, make new friends, and take advantage of all the modern playground equipment that might not be available in their own backyard.
But while the attractions at the playground can hold the interest of her daughters for long stretches at a time, she finds that the same cannot be said for her son.
“He gets so bored sometimes,” she said.
As someone who is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair, her 16-year-old son is hard pressed to find equipment that is either at his age level or able to meet his needs.
“He wants to experience the thrill of a playground just like everyone else,” said McDade.
Though she lives close to Windsor Park, she often takes her kids to more inclusive playgrounds around the city of Columbus. There, her son is able to get on swings and other specialized equipment that can provide fun, laughter and security for those who have disabilities.
But within two years, McDade will not have to travel very far for her children to play on an inclusive playground
When the construction of the Dream Field at Windsor Park started to take shape, the city of Grove City began planning for an inclusive playground right beside the specialized baseball diamond.
“We wanted this to be one big area,” said Kim Conrad, the director of the city’s park and recreation department.
Since they knew an inclusive playground would likely be expensive, they sought a grant from the state of Ohio to help with the cost. In the summer of 2016, the department was told they were awarded a grant worth $500,000 to build an inclusive playground alongside the Mirolo Dream Field at Mt. Carmel Stadium.
One stipulation of the grant was that the city would have to have the project completed by 2018. Conrad said they will likely beat that deadline by over a year.
“We’re looking at the playground being completed this year, possibly by the end of the summer.”
For the vision of the playground, the city held a public meeting with Playworld Midstates and GameTime, two of the leading inclusive playground developers in the country who are vying for the project.
Several parents of children with disabilities attended the December meeting to see their pitch and offer feedback to the companies and the city.
McDade said she was impressed by both presentations as they included a healthy mix of physical play structures and sensory panels. She later asked if the city might be willing to ask the company who is awarded the contract if they might include more wheelchair accessible swings.
“I know the swings are a lot of kids’ favorite piece of equipment,” she said.
Conrad said both companies are flexible in what they presented versus what that families want.
She said one thing that is non-negotiable though is shading options.
“There needs to be sufficient shade,” she said.
Each of the parents present at the meeting agreed.
After receiving feedback, Conrad said the parental input did help shape how they initially planned the inclusive playground.
“I think we had the idea that we needed a lot of physical structures, but the parents said there also needed to be more sensory panels and creative play areas.”
She said their viewpoint was invaluable to the city and they look forward to seeing how the two companies can change their initial vision for how the Dream Field Playground would look.
“They are both extremely good companies who we have worked with before,” she said.
Conrad said the city is excited to be able to bring this inclusive playground to Windsor Park in the near future.
McDade said she and her family are excited as well.
“It will be such a great thing for Grove City to have,” she said.