BY KELLY GOOCH, email@example.com
When Katie Butts takes her 3-year-old daughter to the playground, her experience is not the same as some other parents.
Ms. Butts, 33, of Tyler, said her daughter, Ellie, has joint issues, and while some other parents are watching their children play, she is helping Ellie at the top of the slide and then catching her when she slides down.
“She can do it. She just needs some assistance,” she said.
But later this year, Ms. Butts will get to watch Ellie play independently on a new all-inclusive playground.
Tyler Area Ambucs, the city of Tyler, Tyler Sunrise Rotary Club and Child’s Play Inc., out of the Dallas area, have been working on a community playground project for the Southside Park area along the Rose Rudman Trail.
Volunteer Project Coordinator Amanda Storer said the project will be a redesign of Southside Park.
The pavilion will be renovated to reflect the proposed project’s nature/clubhouse theme, she said, and behind the pavilion will be a bike rack and an enclosed sport court.
The redesigned Southside Park will also feature separate enclosed play areas for 2- to-5-year-olds and 6- to-12-year-olds, as well as a music garden.
In the music garden, instruments such as drums will be available for children to use, Ms. Storer said.
“It’s just a whole garden area that is landscaped,” she added.
Fencing also is part of project plans, as are foam surfaces topped with artificial grass and slides and swings. All of the project will be wheelchair accessible.
Bill Short, with Child’s Play Inc., has been working on the design. He said the fun thing about building the project is that it will create a destination for people. He said it also is a place where parents can bring children who have special needs and children who don’t.
“We don’t want this to be exclusive in any way. … Any child should be able to come and play,” Ms. Storer said.
Bob Westbrook, with the Tyler Sunshine Rotary Club, said he believes it’s important for children with special needs to feel like those without special needs, and this project gives all children a chance to interact in a recreation environment.
“This is the perfect tool. The perfect opportunity,” he said.
City of Tyler Parks and Recreation Director Stephanie Rollings said, “We’re just extremely excited that they chose Southside Park. It’s a … park that’s used by so many families.”
Parents and a child also weighed in.
Ms. Butts, a mother of two, said she believes the project is a great opportunity and will provide local East Texas families accessibility to a boundless playground in Tyler.
Additionally, she said, it allows families to play together and gives disabled parents and grandparents the ability to play with their loved ones.
“I just see it opening up a whole world,” she said.
She said a lot of playgrounds also can be exclusive, but this one will embrace everyone. More importantly, “it’s going to impact the community,” Ms. Butts said.
“It’s not a handicapped park. It’s just a park that anyone can access,” she added.
Carolyn Osteen, 34, echoed Ms. Butts.
Ms. Osteen, who has three children and has worked in pediatric physical therapy, said she is excited about the park and knows there is a need for it.
Many people “will benefit from this. … I think it’s just an asset to the community,” she said.
Ms. Butts’ son, Will, 6, said he is excited about playing with friends at the redesigned park and seeing his sister play there.
Planning efforts for the project began in April. Ms. Storer said via email that she went to the city and was encouraged Parks and Recreation staff members.
They ended up signing on with Child’s Play, Inc. and Short, and working with nonprofits, she said in the email.
“We came up with a design and approached the city again. We had plans for another park in town and that did not work out,” she wrote. “This was summer of 2013. We went back to the drawing board and tweaked the design and went after the Southside Park area along the Rose Rudman Trail. It was a go.”
Then later last year, the rotary club expressed the desire to build a special needs playground and eventually got involved with the Southside Park re-design project, Ms. Storer said.
She said a lot of research has gone into the project, and residents were asked what they were missing out of existing city parks. Parents of special needs parents also were consulted.
The project is currently in the fundraising stage. As of Monday, about 25 percent of the fundraising goal had been met. The total estimated project cost is $750,000.
Ms. Storer said they are seeking donors and want it to be a community project. She said naming rights are available for parts of the project, and as little as $100 can get a family name on signage at the park or have something at the park named “in memory of” or “in honor of” a loved one.
As far as construction, a community build is scheduled for June, according to the project website.
Leading up to the build, installation crews with Child’s Play Inc. will layout the playground and the city of Tyler will do concrete work, Short said.
Then on the day of the community build, he said the Child’s Play, Inc. installation crews will help community members build the project, and artificial grass will be installed by crews the following week. He said about 500 to 700 volunteers are needed for the community build.
Ideally, residents would be able to use the park within two weeks of the community build date, Ms. Storer said.
Ms. Rollings said current Southside Park equipment will be removed and possibly considered for relocation based on its condition as well as playground safety requirements.
For more information about the project, visit www.southsidepark.org .