While there won’t be magical woodland creatures or wizards, children in the community can expect something enchanted coming their way next year.
Rocky River city officials are preparing to construct a $1 million inclusive playground in City Hall Park by the end of October. The goal of Elle’s Enchanted Forest is to allow children of all capabilities to play together.
“This is extremely important because we don’t have many handicap-accessible playgrounds in the city or on the West Side in general,” said At-Large Councilman Christopher Klym. “This project will give children with disabilities the opportunity to play and be included.”
The city’s Service Department is overseeing the project, which will connect to the park’s existing playground. Construction will involve excavating the site, installing curbs and erecting the equipment. Work is expected to wrap early next year, said Recreation Director Bob Holub.
The playground will have a number of features aimed at enabling children with disabilities to enjoy it. They include a wheelchair-accessible swing set, lowered monkey bars, a wheel-in merry-go-round and rollers that children can pull themselves across, said playground organizer Ann Butler.
Construction was intended to begin earlier this year. However, due to health and safety concerns related to COVID19, the project was put on, Holub said.
The project is being paid for with money raised by Butler, a former Rocky River resident who began fundraising in 2015. The playground is named after Butler’s daughter Elle, who in 2014 was born with a large deletion of chromosome 4.
Elle’s condition is something that doctors haven’t seen before and could only compare it to a small portion of other cases. Because of her condition, it is believed that Elle will not be able to walk or talk, according to the fundraising webpage for the playground.
With that in mind, Butler began working to raise money for an inclusive playground in Rocky River. She wanted to build a playground not just for Elle, but for other children with disabilities including those with autism.
“When we saw our daughter, Nikita, playing with her sister, we realized they didn’t care about disabilities,” Butler said. “This is not only about finding equipment for children with special needs, it’s about finding equipment that will allow everyone to play together.”
Accessibility in playgrounds has become an important issue in recent years. There are 6.7 million children with disabilities in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
According to a 2018 National Recreation and Park Association survey, 88% of all Americans say it's important for communities to offer inclusive play options for people of all abilities at playgrounds. However in Cuyahoga County, there are two inclusive playgrounds, in Beachwood and Euclid.
“I can’t even put it into words how exciting this process has been,” Butler said. “I’ve spent a lot of time putting this together and I’m really happy it’s finally coming to fruition.”
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