When students of Mattie McCullough school approached their Grade 2 teacher about a playground that could incorporate their friend in a wheelchair, few would have guessed that such a dream would become a reality before their very eyes.
Unbeknownst to the Mattie McCullough team, the Rotary Club of Red Deer Sunrise was looking for a perfect location to build their ideal barrier-free playscape, designed to integrate all citizens of the City together in play.
The worlds of these two community groups have collided in a spectacular way that has led to the development of the Access for All Barrier-Free PlayScape Project, which is expected to be completed in its entirety by 2018.
“Our side of the idea for the playground came from a group of Grade 2 students at our school who recognized that a student in a wheelchair wasn’t able to get to the playground to play with them. Their teacher, Mrs. Evans, encouraged them to take action against things they didn’t think were right and write letters to the City about the issue,” said Mattie McCullough Vice Principal Kim Kirkwood.
“We had a conversation with the City and our school council to look at ideas for how to fix this issue. Through some conversations, we were eventually put in contact with the Sunrise Rotary Club. Fortunately for us, they were looking to do something with a barrier-free, wheelchair accessible playground in town, but they were having trouble finding a location to build the park.”
The playscape is expected to come in at a grand total of approximately $500,000 – money that will be generated and used over the course of three phases and three years. Rotary Clubs in the City, the City of Red Deer and other parties, including the Rett Syndrome Society of Alberta, are currently working through the details of how best to roll out the project and are managing funds towards the build.
“We’ve had conversations with occupational and physical therapists and parents to look at types of equipment that would be most useful and beneficial. Some of the equipment we’re purchasing will allow children and adults the freedom to play independently, which is something we’re looking for,” said Kirkwood, emphasizing the need for a truly inclusive playscape for all people.
“There are quite a few group homes in the area as well and we’d hope those young and older adults in those homes will be able have full access to the playscape as well. We recognize that there are lots of families where grandparents are actively still involved in children’s lives, and this will provide a safe place for families to all play together.”
Kirkwood said the project will hopefully help to rebuild community spirit and develop relationships across a variety of demographics. She says the playscape is an opportunity for community members to get to know each other and have fun while doing so.
“I see the opportunities this playground can provide to the families of Central Alberta. It’s about freedom to play and that’s important,” she said.
“With some of the equipment we’re purchasing, people will truly be independent and able to play as they wish. The kids can be with their friends and access the park and actively get engaged in play, rather than sitting to the side and watching. It’s the best thing for our kids, and that’s why we’re going to do it.”
Sunrise Rotary member Grant Burchnall is chairing the project on behalf of his fellow Rotarians, and said he’s extremely excited to be a part of it.
“It’s a great idea to me because it helps out such a large number and variety of people. It’s low-cost for users – free – and a great long-term project, which is a good investment in our community. It’s also timely in that our economy doesn’t allow a lot of people to enjoy this level of activity and involvement with other people at a low cost,” Burchnall said.
“It was kind of a parallel path that we’d been on. Rotary was looking at this project independent of Mattie McCullough and Mattie McCullough was looking at it independent of Rotary, but we’ve found each other now. We looked at a couple of other locations that didn’t necessarily work for our vision or for the City and Mattie McCullough has a perfect space. We were a little concerned that with Mattie McCullough being an elementary school, they might have wanted to design it around that age group for children but their vision actually aligned very well with ours in terms of being inclusive for people of all ages.”
The park will be specially designed to accommodate children, young adults, adults and elderly people, with or without mobility restrictions such as wheelchairs. Much of the equipment promotes play that is independently driven, even for those with wheelchairs. There will be a number of pieces that will require assistance for those with mobility issues and there will also be designs put into the project that accommodate able-bodied persons.
The park will be put together in three separate phases. The first includes the fundraising portion and park expansion to the existing structure. The second phase is the production of a zip-line and the third phase is the creation of a naturescape element.
As well, the City of Red Deer has committed to creating paved access points for community members through a variety of connections to the area.
Developments will continue to be shared by members of Rotary Clubs, Mattie McCullough school and the City of Red Deer.