Are playgrounds in your community accessible?

Contact local officials and get the fun started

Does your community need new play equipment that is accessible to children and young adults with disabilities? The story of the two Red Wing women who led the effort for the new Covill Park playground may inspire you and your neighbors to act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that play equipment be accessible. Check playgrounds in your community and it may become obvious that not all are in the same condition or have the same level of access. Some communities are still replacing wooden play equipment installed in the 1970s. Others have equipment that is even older. This equipment was not designed for children with disabilities or for the adults who accompany them to playgrounds. Some playground features that may have been considered safe and accessible several years ago wouldn’t meet standards today.

Many companies provide accessible play equipment, which is a benefit for playground planners. The choices in equipment including swings, sand diggers, riding toys and other large toys are much greater than ever. But in a time of very tight city, county and school district budgets, it is not as easy to get a playground built. There are public and private resources available to communities wanting accessible play equipment but planners need to be strategic and thoughtful in how they get a playground built.

Contacting local officials is the way to get a project started. Any playground equipment put on public property requires approval from the city, county or school district that owns the property. Private property owners have the say in where they place play equipment. Some places of worship and apartment complexes allow the surrounding communities to use their play equipment and might welcome help to pay for new play facilities.

If a public playground is wanted find out whether there is public funding for a play project and how that process works. Some cities, counties and school districts plan and select capital improvement projects through a community ranking process. This may be done as part of a local government budget process or as a separate process. Some have even ranked play areas in order of age and condition of equipment, and to determine which should be replaced first. Ask how your community does such planning for play facilities. Also ask if there are processes in place for a city, county or school district to accept privately raised donations and how those donations are handled.

Be aware that obtaining public funding can take more than one try. A project may have to be submitted for more than one round of funding before it is approved. Some public dollars, such as Neighborhood Sales Tax Revitalization (STAR) grants in the city of St. Paul, require a one-to-one match of funds, materials, design skills or sweat equity.

Additional resources are also available for playgrounds. Some cities or neighborhoods have foundations in place for community projects. Check to see if your community has such a group in place. There are also national organizations that promote playgrounds. One organization that helps communities build playgrounds, including accessible playgrounds, is KaBOOM! This non-profit group has been involved in a number of projects around the region. Last month KaBOOM! volunteers helped build a new playground at Polynesian Village Apartments in New Brighton. This playground will benefit 250 children. Home Depot, Opportunity Neighborhood Development Corporation, Minnesota Viking Chad Greenway and community volunteers helped with the project. View the new playground at 1417 100th St. NW in New Brighton.

KaBOOM! has a web site with several sections, including information on the need for play areas to be accessible for children as well as for the adults who accompany them there. The site also includes a very long list of possible fund-raising ideas and an evaluation of the potential success of each idea. This information could be very helpful for volunteers with limited time and resources. Visit the site at www.kaboom.org to learn more.

Another good Web site for planning a community playground project is www.playlsi.com, the site for the Delano-based firm Landscape Structures Inc. This company, which has focus on accessible equipment, also has a planning guide for community playgrounds. Download the guide from the Web site.

Regional and national home improvement retailers may also provide help with playground projects. Check Web sites for these retailers to see what they would do in terms of donated materials, equipment, and labor or design services. Locally-based hardware stores and lumber yards also may want to get involved. See if there is a construction company in your community that gets involved in playground projects.

For information on what is considered legally accessible for a playground, check www.ada.gov The ADA home page has a document on the left hand side about parks and recreation issues.