H.O.P.E. For The Best

Preston’s H.O.P.E is a fully accessible inter-generational park that goes beyond the traditional playground to ensure a unique opportunity for physical and imaginative exploration for all generations. Located on the property of the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood, Ohio, the park provides a recreational environment where families of children with all types of disabilities can participate equally with able-bodied peers.

With an overall budget of approximately $2,000,000, The Preston Fund secured private funds and donated goods and services, and opened the park to the public in 2006. The acronym H.O.P.E.--Helping Others Play and Enjoy--is presented at the main entry with a “Tree of Life” sculpture. The inspiration for the park is Preston Fisher, the child of Jackie and Ken Fisher, who had a physically debilitating genetic disorder. His parents established the Preston Fund for Spinal Muscular Atrophy research and Preston’s H.O.P.E. to build Ohio’s first boundless playground. They enlisted the help of the community over a period of seven years to design, build, and fund the park.

At First Glance

The park comprises different themed areas with an entry that features a gathering plaza with a sculpture, a timber arbor, seating and dedication pavers. The main pathway--the “pathway of dreams”--encircles the village in the center of the park. The village has city-themed playhouses with a custom, double-wide, raised walkway running through the center. The walkway starts at ground level and ramps upward, providing access to a second level of playhouses and a view of the other play areas. Also attached to the walkway is play equipment for alternative access routes and additional play features. A pre-school play area, swing area, school-age play area, amphitheater, and a sand- and water-play area surround the village. Each themed area is accentuated by different patterns and colors of rubberized safety surfacing, as well as the coordinated colors of the play equipment. There also is a gaming/picnic pavilion and restroom building located near the entry. Various sound pads and panels are located throughout the park, and serve as sensory items for children with vision or hearing disabilities.

Defining The Goals

The scope of work for landscape architectural firm Cawrse & Associates began early in the project when it was determined the client did not want the look of a traditional playground. The challenge was to utilize traditional pieces of play equipment--in a non-traditional way--and provide access for kids of all abilities, while ensuring that the play equipment met the required safety standards and accessibility guidelines. Cawrse & Associates was responsible for developing the final park master plan, including the playground, walks, raised walkway and surfacing design, then transitioning through construction documents and field coordination. In order to get the widest variety of play-equipment design, the company specified play pieces from GameTime, Miracle, Landscape Structures, Little Tikes and Playworld Systems. The playhouses were built by the Cleveland Home Builders Association. Due to the variety of manufacturers, the company connected the equipment directly to the retaining walls.

Overcoming Obstacles

Most existing accessible playgrounds only provide a transfer platform or partial ramp, which requires a child to leave support equipment behind in order to access the play structure. In order to make the park unique, ramps were created with mounding and textured retaining walls in the pre-school and school-age play areas to simulate the experience of going up a mountain. The ramp widths were designed to allow two wheelchairs to pass easily with widened areas for benches and pull-offs. The village area was also designed with a custom double-wide walkway through the center, allowing wheelchair access to the second level of some of the playhouses. This raised pathway allows the children in wheelchairs a feeling of being elevated with everyone. Additional play equipment, also created at ground level, accommodates wheelchairs, and allows easy access.

Using a raised transfer platform allows children in wheelchairs the ability to transfer from their chairs to the platform, and to be able to access the play equipment. The play equipment is also far enough from the wall to provide the required safety zones. Designing custom play features--while still complying with playground safety standards--was a challenge when laying out the equipment. Another challenge was creating a raised walkway that allows all children to have access to the second floor of the playhouses. Different materials and construction methods were explored for the raised walkway. Several playground manufacturers were contacted to submit designs for a custom double-wide walkway, since such an application was unprecedented. Landscape Structures was able to fabricate a seven-foot-wide walkway by customizing standard ramp components. Another obstacle that arose was designing the buildings so local contractors--who donated their services--could complete the work, and be able to connect the building to the raised walkway.

On the whole, the final constructed park is an enormous success. Through working with the client, consultants and manufacturers, Cawrse & Associates was able to develop a cohesive design for the equipment and a site that allows children with disabilities the opportunity to utilize play equipment that might normally be inaccessible. In 2007, the park was honored with a facility award by the OhioParks and Recreation Association.

Richard Washington, ASLA, is a Principal Landscape Architect and senior designer who has been with Cawrse & Associates, Inc., since 1993. He has been practicing landscape architecture in Ohio for 18 years. His background includes a wide variety of land planning projects, including parks and recreation, healthcare and educational facilities, and streetscape projects. For more information on Cawrse & Associates, visit www.cawrse.com.