No child left behind
On any given day at Every Child’s Playground in Cincinnati, dozens of kids are romping through a riverboat structure, swinging, playing with toy trucks, whizzing down the slides and navigating through mazes. Its activity level suggests it is just a typical playground — and it’s anything but typical. Built in part for kids with physical disabilities, the playground allows all children to play together in one fun setting.
The 10,500-square-foot playground was completed last September as a part of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s 1000 Hands Project, a volunteer-driven effort that has built six playgrounds in the greater Cincinnati area since its launch in 1998. Under the terms of the program, communities submit proposals to the commission to secure assistance in building playgrounds for their areas.
Every Child’s Playground, though, followed a different path to creation than the other facilities. The commission members came up with the concept and talked to kids in the Therapeutic Recreation Division to see what they wanted. With commission member Wayne Lurix heading up the project, the yearlong coordination began in the fall of 2002. He chose an undeveloped nook under a bridge in riverfront Sawyer Point Park as the construction site.
Because the site was in downtown and there was no surrounding community, Lurix called on volunteers from previous 1000 Hands projects to help. To get the word out, a local television station aired a public service announcement, and large corporations with offices in the area, such as General Electric and Proctor & Gamble, offered hundreds of volunteers during weekday work hours.
The response was overwhelming. “It’s the kind of project that unites communities,” says Lurix. Upon completion, 2,000 volunteers had assisted in the playground’s construction — and the waiting list to help still was full.
Leathers Associates in Ithaca, N.Y., designed the facility, and the playground had a total budget of $275,000 — three-fourths of which was donated. Home Depot supplied items such as nuts, bolts and nails, and building materials were bought with donated funds. All construction was done by volunteers, whose skill levels were indicated by nametags of different colors. As many as 250 people were involved at a time, making it a sort of “controlled chaos” environment, according to Lurix.
In the planning stage, the organizing committee considered accessibility issues when planning the playground’s design. The result is a very open space with lots of ramps that allow children in wheelchairs to travel to the upper level of the riverboat structure and even to the entrance to the slide. For visually impaired kids, there are “finger mazes” on the sides of the structure in which they can trace a series of grooves, and a music area with chimes and triangles that any child can play. In addition, there is a climbing wall — a request by the kids — and a flat-surface play area where toy cars can zoom around. And, of course, no playground would be complete without a full set of swings.
At the end of six days of construction, the playground was ready for action and virtually maintenance-free, too. By adding an $80,000 rubber safety mat a few weeks later, the playground will not need landscaping or upkeep required by traditional wood-chip surfaces. The riverboat-themed central structure was built with polywood, and the remainder of the playground elements were built with plastic lumber and recycled composite, which eliminates the yearly resealing required with wood.
Since its dedication, the park has spurred interest in other communities in building playground facilities that are handicap-accessible. But for now, Every Child’s Playground alone serves a huge population; Sawyer Point Park attracts nearly 1 million annual visitors, making the playground one of the most-visited in the city.