Imagine for a minute that you’re about 7 years old and you’re at the park with your family. Your siblings run off to play with other kids who are there and their laughter in the wind calls to you. You can only sit on the sidelines and watch. You look down at your shoes and see a sea of mulch just beyond your toes that makes it impossible for you to navigate your wheelchair and you’re starting to get to be too heavy for mom and dad to carry you to the swings. So you just end up sitting there, watching and dreaming about what it would feel like to be playing with the other kids.
But now the Greenhaven Parent Teacher Organization (GPTO) may have a solution for you, as they continue partnering with various Hibbing-based groups to draw up plans to create a park for everyone — no matter their ability.
Linnea Walli, who has served as the GPTO president for the last few years, is the playground committee chair for Hibbing’s first inclusive playground.
“Our goal is to make this playground inclusive so that all abilities and all ages can use it,” Walli explained.
According to literature from the Landscape Structures, the Minnesota-based company that has been selected to manufacture the equipment, an inclusive playground is “a universally designed, sensory-rich environment that enables children to develop physically, socially and emotionally.” The brochure goes on to explain that universal design empowers a diverse population that benefits all. “It does not mean that all the fun and risk from a playground are eliminated. Instead, it helps to create a place where all can play, learn and grow together,” the brochure reads.
Built in 1996, the current playground at the Greenhaven is starting to show signs of its age. The majority of the surface under the equipment is woodchip, rendering it virtually impossible for anyone in a wheelchair or with balance issues to get across to access the equipment.
The dream of the GPTO is to construct a park that will be fully accessible. With plenty of opportunities to play and will feature a Poured In Place Safety Surface — a uniform “rubberized” material that’s both solid and bouncy and made primarily from post-consumer recycled materials. It’s a walking surface that kids, teens and adults can enjoy.
“Not every piece of equipment is for everyone,” Walli said. The equipment that the committee has selected was designed to give everyone plenty of options to play.
Take for instance the OmniSpin Spinner — it’s a high-backed spinner that is low-enough to the ground to make transfers from a mobility device easy. Or the We-Go-Round, a merry-go-round that is fully wheel-chair accessible.
The park will also feature playground standards with lots of options to climb, slide, swing and cross the monkey bars, plus upgrades like shaded areas. “Even though we live in a northern climate, it still gets hot and not everyone can be in the sun,” Walli said. She continued, “It’s not always a medical need, but the shaded areas will provide more opportunities for adults and kids to play together.”
Plans have been in the works for this playground since last spring and the organizers estimate that it will cost $400,000 to construct. As Walli explained, the GPTO has about $10,000 in the bank to get the ball rolling and now the Greenhaven students are actively seeking donations from the community for their annual walk-a-thon, with all proceeds going to help fund this new park.
Beyond that, Walli said that the city has allocated funds for the playground and that the committee has an eager grant-writer on-board. They’ve already started conversations with various other donors, and they have “verbal” agreements that are not 100 percent solidified yet.
“The goal is to build next summer, if the money stays on track,” Walli stated.
The organizers should have a good indication of how things are going after today, which is the scheduled day for the GPTO’s fourth annual walk-a-thon, which will be happening from 4:00-5:30 p.m. in Hibbing.
Heather Lubben is one of the co-chairs for the Walk-a-Thon and explained that kids have been raising money and will be walking the block around the Greenhaven and cashing in incentive tickets for fun and games after their walk. “Students who raise over $200 will have the opportunity to throw a pie Mrs. [Carrie] McDonald’s face,” Lubben said. McDonald is the school principal, and will be joined by several other teacher volunteers. “The older kids get it and are excited about it,” said Lubben, “but it’s harder to explain it all to the kindergarteners.”
Donations are being accepted online at greenhavenwalkathon.com, or through the Inclusive Community Playground-Hibbing facebook page.
The feedback from the community has been positive. “People are excited about this and already the word is spreading beyond the city limits,” Walli said. She added, “They are curious about what the word “inclusive” means and has fielded a lot of questions. It’s opened up discussions about how to handle questions about our differences and do it with grace.”