All Together Now

By Cheryl Kormann

With more than 40 park units—some developed and others undeveloped—within the city of New Ulm, in Minnesota, it takes something special to be near the top of the list. One special park is Hermann Heights Park, located in the center of New Ulm and home to Hermann the German Monument. This 102-foot monument towers over the city and depicts Hermann the Cherusci, the ancient hero whose army liberated Germany from Roman rule in 9 A.D. As German immigrants came to the U.S., the legend of Hermann as the father of German independence and a symbol of honor and pride came with them. In 1840, a national “Order of the Sons of Hermann” was founded in New York. In 1887, the Order commissioned a statue of Hermann similar to the one in Germany to be erected in New Ulm. It took nearly a decade to complete the 4,000-pound statue, designated by the U.S. Congress in 2000 as a national symbol of German heritage. 

Each year, tens of thousands of visitors climb a spiral staircase to the base of the statue for a stunning, panoramic view of the city and the Minnesota River Valley. The park also has an interpretive center that houses artifacts and various media that educate visitors about the legend of the folk hero. The park has two seasonal shelters that are rented to the public most weekends, and restrooms. Now, the park is also home to southern Minnesota’s first inclusive playground.

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Before, as the poorest-looking playground in New Ulm’s most visited park, the aging playground still had pea gravel for its surfacing, which did not meet ADA requirements. The city initially budgeted $75,000 for replacement. Representatives from Allina Health and the New Ulm Medical Center Foundation approached the park and recreation department with a proposal to partner with the city on its Courage Kenny Rehabilitation fundraising project, which is an outlet for youth and adults to continue rehabilitation outside the walls of the medical center. Since the park and recreation department already had plans to replace the play equipment at Hermann Heights Park, both parties decided to join forces to design and create an inclusive playground that would be welcoming to individuals of all abilities and ages, a place for children, parents, grandparents, siblings, caregivers, and friends to enjoy together.

In speaking with various playground vendors, it was determined that, to do this project the right way, the anticipated cost would be approximately $250,000. The department requested an additional $125,000 out of its fund balance, which city council unanimously approved. Allina Health and the New Ulm Medical Center Foundation made a significant commitment of approximately $50,000. This was the most money the city had ever committed to a playground project.

Planning—Design And Coordination
Flagship Recreation, the distributor of Landscape Structures equipment, is manufactured locally in Delano, Minn. Landscape Structures is considered a leader in the industry for design and manufacturing of inclusive play equipment, and the company has extensive experience in creating inclusive parks, and thus was awarded the project. Part of the services included meeting with various groups to discuss needs and wants and to oversee the design phase. The city knew that poured-in-place surfacing, a soft, rubber surface, was the way to go, as opposed to the traditional engineered-wood fiber. While both surfaces are considered accessible, the smooth and soft yet firm surface makes it much easier for those who struggle with movement to maneuver. A panel was formed of city staff members, along with parents of children with different abilities and disabilities who volunteered their time to help create the space. After several meetings and discussions of conceptual drawings, a final plan was made, with features not found in other city parks, including components specifically designed to be used together: a Double Zip Cruise (four-seat teeter-totter), Sway Fun (everyone sitting together with space for wheelchairs and scooters), and a parent/child swing set. The plan also had features that stimulated play for those with autism and other behavioral disorders. All of the play equipment was nature-themed, and the project was completed with two log benches that double as a seat and play component (balance beam), both funded through donations.

Funding
Project budget—$250,000
Play equipment/installation— $123,087
Concrete/construction/curbing/fencing—$17,294
Seeding/park grounds restoration and trail—$8,646.83
Advertisement for bids—$353.43
Surfacing—$103,700

Collaboration And Community Support
City departments worked together to keep costs within budget. The park and recreation staff removed old play equipment in the fall. The engineering department provided survey work. The public works department performed all site excavation, as well as constructing the trail from the street to the playground.

The momentum continued with local businesses. MR Paving and Excavating, Inc., donated the playground base, which included 300+ tons of crushed concrete, installation, and compaction. Fastenal donated the transportation to bring two truckloads of equipment from the Landscape Structures plant and deliver them to the site. The vendor and contractors accepted and arranged equipment within the container and performed fine grading and installation of key pieces in preparation for a community build. One of the most amazing components of this project was the outpouring of community support from businesses and residents! Coordinating the volunteers was led by New Ulm Medical Center Foundation Director Missy Dreckman. Forty-eight volunteers were scheduled for two consecutive days, but 70 volunteer workers showed up. Volunteers had to be at least 18 years old and sign a waiver. Food and drink for them was provided by local businesses. Two professionals were onsite to lead the crews through the installation process. Once the poured-in-place surfacing was laid, volunteers braved cold, windy weather to watch over the site and protect it from foot and animal traffic, which was critical for the first six hours of curing. The project received live radio, TV, and newspaper coverage.

An open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the general public, donors, and volunteers. The vendor donated treats that were given away at the celebration.

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Project Uniqueness
This project was completed within one percent of the projected budget, despite having to deal with several unanticipated expenses, such as the required ground restoration after significant rainfall prior to installation.

The playground has become a destination, as seen by the traffic in the park. The picnic shelter adjacent to the playground is booked most weekends through the summer. Staff members have received calls from other communities and volunteer groups asking for assistance on beginning the process of installing their own inclusive playground.

This project recently received a Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association Award of Excellence in the Sponsorships and Partnerships Category.

If you have questions about how to begin the process of budgeting, designing, and building your own inclusive playground, call Cheryl Kormann or Tom Schmitz at (507) 359-8344. 

Cheryl Kormann is the Assistant Director for the City of New Ulm Park and Recreation Department in Minnesota. Reach her at Cheryl.kormann@ci.new-ulm.mn.us.