…and the community that’s rallied behind it
Playgrounds can be magical places for children. A safe space for them to run, jump, swing and play. Their benefits extend far beyond the physical — in many ways, they are outdoor spaces that serve as the heart of a community.
In Wyoming, there’s a $450,000 project underway to transform the Crescent Park playground, which sits steps away from the city’s business district, into a state-of-the-art, universally accessible space — a place where kids of multiple abilities can play.
The effort hit one of its most critical stages this past week: A last leg of fundraising after city officials and community members secured thousands in grants and private dollars. A remaining $90,000 is needed to fully fund the project, a more than two-year endeavor that refused to be derailed by a global pandemic, and fueled by sheer determination to make Wyoming a more welcoming community.
A Place For All
It was 2019 when City Councilwoman Sarah Stankorb Taylor organized an important buildings and equipment committee meeting. She had recently learned an unfortunate fact: None of Wyoming’s playgrounds are universally accessible.
It’s certainly not that way on purpose, she said, but if a wheelchair can’t navigate a rubber barrier, or if a walker can’t roll over the mulch, or if none of the equipment is usable by some kids, the result is the same.
She didn’t know how to fix it at first, so she turned to folks who did.
For Mary Cassinelli Gaffey, lack of accessibility often meant not going to playgrounds at all. Her son Joseph, age 7, has a form of muscular dystrophy, or muscle weakness, and has been in a wheelchair since age 2. The Gaffeys recently visited an all-inclusive playground in Mason, called Makino Park, where Joseph got to play with friends, but it’s a nearly 30-minute drive away.
“It’s a struggle,” she said. “Obviously when he was younger, it wasn’t terrible, but as he’s gotten heavier, it’s been an issue. I just want to see a place where all kids can play together, where all children can be included.”
All-inclusive playgrounds are rare, Wyoming City Councilman Jeff LeRoy said. The planning process can be lengthy, and the components necessary to make it accessible are typically pricier than the norm.
To help move the effort forward, Mary Gaffey rallied friends, including Kate Patterson, Megan Anderson and Amy Gueck Webb, who got involved in the effort. Rachel Leininger, the City of Wyoming’s director of recreation and citizen engagement, drew in experts to meet with the families, Stankorb Taylor, LeRoy, and other city staff.
The families attended meetings, helped select the equipment, and tested turf samples. Children with and without disabilities “consulted,” telling the adults which equipment would be fun and navigable, and even helped pitch local and state officials for funding.
Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus, State Rep. Sedrick Denson (D-Cincinnati) and Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) levied various levels and letters of support. As did Wyoming’s neighboring cities.
Denson fought hard, Stankorb Taylor said, to include the playground in the 2021-2022 state capital budget, even as other projects were getting slashed. The state committed $150,000 for the project — the first time, as far as anyone can remember, she said, Wyoming was considered for those kinds of funds.
Denson celebrated right alongside the city.
“I am incredibly excited to see funds go toward a project that is taking such decisive action to send an important message of inclusivity,” Denson wrote in a release. “Wyoming will be a leader for other communities in modeling the need for all public spaces to be accessible spaces,” the statement said.
The playground, in its current design, will feature elements like a playbooster with ramps and slides, a chill spinner that offers sensory benefit, a “we-go-round” that’s wheelchair accessible, accessible swings and more. It’s everything a playground normally has, LeRoy said, but with so much more.
Inspired by the project, new City Manager Rusty Herzog pitched additional Crescent Park infrastructure improvements to city council. Plans now call for a slightly enlarged parking lot with a few more handicapped-accessible spaces. Its expected the playground will bring more foot-traffic in the downtown business district.
The new equipment won’t impact Crescent’s existing soccer fields. In fact, those will be improved, too with irrigation and field leveling. Additional landscaping will make the entire park more welcoming and beautiful.
“It’s really exciting,” LeRoy said. “This is a park that, for the most part, sits empty. I am confident that when this is done, when you drive by you aren’t going to see an empty playground and railroad tracks. Coming to this park is going to make people realize Wyoming is more than a bedroom community. It will make people take a second look. You’re going to see families of all backgrounds and experiences coming together. And that’s something that can only make us better.”
A total of 80 percent of the $450,000 budget has been committed via federal funds, state money and private donations. The city hopes to fundraise the additional $90,000 from the community; the Wyoming Community Foundation last week released sponsorship opportunities for interested donors. Several opportunities are available; all contributions are tax deductible.
The plan is to break ground in summer 2022. It’s a moment that can’t come soon enough, said Stankorb Taylor.
“It’s one of the most thrilling projects of my time on council,” she said. “There’s so much we learned through this process that can be applicable all over the community. It’s going to be an amazing gift.”