Photo: © Craig Harrold Photography
With fanfare reserved for a visit from the circus, various magicians, jugglers, clowns, and service animals celebrated the grand opening of Play for All Abilities Park, which opened in Round Rock, Texas, on March 3 after 5 years of stops and starts.
It all began in 2006 when residents Kenneth and Dennis Seymore asked city officials to consider applying for a Boundless Playground outdoor grant. Kenneth was attempting to provide more recreational opportunities for his son Dennis, who is wheelchair-bound due to a debilitating muscle disease. Fortunately, as it worked out, the city was not awarded the grant. If it had been awarded, the community would have missed out on an opportunity to build the park together.
Two years later, Marge Tripp and the Sunrise Rotary organization asked about installing an adaptive swing for children with autism. City officials were once again reminded of the need for recreational opportunities for children of all abilities, and it was verified again during the parks and recreation master-planning process.
With these two requests in mind, the city began developing a park plan that would provide all children with an opportunity to play and develop skills in a fun, safe, outdoor environment. City council--following citizens’ input--approved using a portion of Rabb Park as the site for the Play for All Park, and allocated $200,000 to get the project started.
From there, the idea grew into a community-wide effort. Members of local civic clubs joined forces and formed the Play for All Committee and a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation (Play for All Foundation).
The desire to help design the park also spread to the community. A design task force of more than 30 people was formed, which included several parents of children with special needs along with professionals from different disciplines in medical, educational, and design fields. Their input helped city officials fine-tune the design to ensure the needs of all children were met. The park includes several pods--each intended to develop specific skills--including:
- Retreat Pod
- Sensory Pod-Sandbox
- Rock Band Pod
- Rolling Hill/Performance Lawn
- Sensory Pod
- All-Abilities Playscape
- All-Ability Swings
- Brushy CreekVillage Life-Skills Area.
The park is 51,000 square feet of outdoor fun nestled in a natural setting under stately oak trees. The large, gated, and fully enclosed facility includes a variety of play opportunities designed to stimulate and encourage the development of several skill sets, such as gross and fine motor skills, social interaction, a sense of discovery, creativity, and strengthening exercises.
With the help of the community, between in-kind donations and sponsorships from local businesses and the grants awarded, the city was able to build a $1.3-million facility for
$600,000. The Play for All Foundation raised more than $100,000. The signature fundraising event was the first Reindeer Fun Run in December. Moved by the community support and the momentum of the project, city council stepped forward in April 2011 and authorized the remaining $300,000 needed to build the park. Major donors included a local dealership ($25,000), a local convenience-store chain ($25,000), a major healthcare provider ($25,000), a regional grocer ($25,000), and a local construction firm that donated in-kind construction services ($250,000). Replicas of these businesses also are included in the Village Pod section of the park to teach life-skills in a safe setting.
In addition to fundraising, the community provided sweat-equity. Volunteers were kept informed through blog updates and the volunteer center on tasks that could be performed by citizens’ groups. More than 400 community members came out on a balmy January day to lay sod, install playground surfacing, clean equipment, paint and erect buildings, create the touch-wall, and assist with general cleanup.
Mayor Alan MaGraw summed it up best when he praised the community for its involvement: “I don’t know that we’ve ever done a project in this city that brought the community together like this one has.”
Cory Styron , CPRP, is the Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Round Rock, Texas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .