GOSHEN — Plans for a new fully ADA-accessible playground for the city were outlined Tuesday during a special joint meeting of the Goshen School Board and Goshen City Council.
The nearly two-hour meeting, held at the Goshen Community Schools Administration Center, covered many of the current major issues in the school district as well as offering insight and updates regarding city projects.
Leading the discussion on the proposed playground Tuesday was Goshen Parks and Recreation Superintendent Tanya Heyde, who began her presentation by briefly explaining the primary differences between ADA-approved playgrounds that meet ADA guidelines — of which all of Goshen’s parks are — and fully accessible playgrounds, also known as “inclusive” playgrounds.
Passed into law in 1990, the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places open to the general public.
“An inclusive playground goes beyond the standard disability act,” Heyde said of the ADA. “So we’re including not only physically disabled, but cognitively, emotionally. ... We’re putting pieces into this playground to meet all of those needs, and also ensuring that every child can reach the highest point.”
When discussing a potential location for the new playground, Heyde said her current desire would be to construct the playground at the city’s Hay Park on West Plymouth Avenue between Indiana Avenue and Greene Road.
“There is an existing playground there, and our hope would be to remove that and reuse it at another playground location that could use some updating to its equipment. We would then replace that equipment with the new inclusive playground equipment,” Heyde said. “There are also existing restrooms there and a covered picnic area.”
Speaking to what the playground will look like, Heyde said she and Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman recently formed a committee composed of community and business members aimed at gauging public opinion on what the new playground should include, and helping the city nail down a layout and design for the playground.
Heyde explained that constructing fully ADA-accessible playgrounds is not cheap, with the current estimate for the project settling at right around $400,000. That cost estimate includes everything from the equipment and installation to surfacing, fencing and additional parking spaces, she explained.
“The surfacing for a playground of this sort is just as important as the equipment that is installed, making sure that it is accessible and people are able to maneuver easily,” she added of the cost.
To help pay for such a project, Heyde said the city has recently received a verbal commitment from a private donor, Kerry’s Kids Foundation, to fund half of the project cost, or around $200,000.
“Then we have applied for a community investment grant through the Community Foundation of Elkhart County (for $200,000),” she said. “We will hear whether or not that has been awarded in April of this year.”
Should the city be successful in securing the grant this spring, Heyde said her hope will be to move right into the project from there, with the ultimate goal being completion of the project this summer.
PLAYGROUND FOR ALL
For his part, Mayor Stutsman noted that while the original intent for the playground was to provide a fully ADA-accessible place for children with disabilities to play and socialize, recent conversations with adults in the city have shown the proposed park will be welcomed by more than just disabled kids.
“I presented this project to Kiwanis Club several months ago, and they’re very interested in participating with us and helping out with this project. But the question was asked, what percentage of the population will this park serve? I didn’t have the answer to that, but I said it’s probably a very small percentage in our community of kids that need this type of park,” Stutsman said. “After the meeting, I had several people approach me that had heard about this that are physically disabled themselves, and they were just as excited about this park, because it means they get to go to the park with their kids and their grandkids. So we thought we were doing it just for the kids, but it turns out that it’s going to be a great park for the entire community of all ages.”
Should the proposed park eventually become a reality, Stutsman said it will be the first fully ADA-accessible park of its kind in Elkhart County.
“There are several parks in Elkhart County and in Goshen that have elements within the park that are handicap accessible, but this will be the first park in Elkhart County of this magnitude,” Stutsman said. “So I’m excited to see this happen.”
John Kline can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN