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10-13-20 | Feature

Dreaming of a Place to Play

Place to Play Park in Iowa
by Samantha Price & Mark Kuiper, RITLAND+KUIPER Landscape Architects

The new Place to Play Park in Cedar Falls, Iowa, is an inclusive playground for children of all abilities. The open space plan allows for free play and accessibility for families. RITLAND+KUIPER Landscape Architects was chosen to work with the city to select the park site, create the concept design, and assist with fundraising efforts.
The sand area, the park's most popular element, features local boulders, sand diggers, a custom shade structure, and a sand and water play structure with ADA access where water can flow through sand at the push of a button, creating exciting sensory play.
The sand area, the park's most popular element, features local boulders, sand diggers, a custom shade structure, and a sand and water play structure with ADA access where water can flow through sand at the push of a button, creating exciting sensory play.
Talk to Me Technologies designed a custom communication board that included picture signs of the unique aspects of the park but also common pictures that non-verbal individuals would recognize. The youngest child of Samantha Price, a Landscape Architect at RITLAND+KUIPER, has Floating Harbor Syndrome, which causes a severe delay in expressive speech. Utilizing the communication board, she is able to show what she wants to do next.
Talk to Me Technologies designed a custom communication board that included picture signs of the unique aspects of the park but also common pictures that non-verbal individuals would recognize. The youngest child of Samantha Price, a Landscape Architect at RITLAND+KUIPER, has Floating Harbor Syndrome, which causes a severe delay in expressive speech. Utilizing the communication board, she is able to show what she wants to do next.
Many of the playground elements allow for side-by-side and cooperative play such as a multi-person seesaw. An adjacent playground structure named "Jude's Jungle" is seen behind and can be accessed by a hill in the center of the park with a connecting bridge, allowing accessible fun for older kids of all abilities.
A custom sensory wall was created with a nature-based color palette. A panel with marbles set inside provides a visual and tactile experience, children can play music while practicing fine motor skills and auditory stimulation, and a kaleidoscope panel engages visual senses.
A custom sensory wall was created with a nature-based color palette. A panel with marbles set inside provides a visual and tactile experience, children can play music while practicing fine motor skills and auditory stimulation, and a kaleidoscope panel engages visual senses.

In late September of 2018, Place to Play Park broke ground, bringing to reality what had only seemed like a dream for two enterprising mothers of children with special needs. Four years earlier, Amanda Weichers and Sarah Corkery saw a segment on NBC's "Today Show" about Harper's Playground, an inclusive playground in Portland, Oregon, and knew they needed to build a similar playground in eastern Iowa. The pair enlisted the willing cooperation of the City of Cedar Falls in the development of an inclusive playground on one of the city's park properties, but soon realized they needed to raise $500,000 to get the project going. Corkery and Weichers went to work, using Beau's Beautiful Blessings (BBB), as the avenue for fundraising. This foundation, named after Weicher's son Beau, who has a seizure disorder and was born with a rare brain abnormality, was created to raise awareness and provide financial support for those struggling with epilepsy, brain abnormalities, and intellectual disabilities. BBB hired RITLAND+KUIPER Landscape Architects (RKLA) to work with the city to select a park site, create the initial concept design, and develop graphics to help with fundraising efforts.

The fundraising for the park began immediately and was slow to grow. At the time, there were few inclusive playgrounds in Iowa, and BBB had to fight to show the community and supporters the importance of moving beyond mere accessibility toward inclusiveness, and how necessary a play space like this was for the area. Raising the funds took four years and began with small donations from pop can returns, selling pumpkins, kids donating their birthday parties for donations to the park, selling $1 bracelets, and even Beau's longtime baby-sitter donating her wedding gifts toward the park. These small donations added up, however, and the momentum and story they generated landed larger donations by Black Hawk County Gaming Association, McElroy Foundation, Guernsey Foundation, VGM Foundation, Viking Pump, and many others. The City of Cedar Falls, for its part, stepped up with many in-kind contributions, including a parking lot, restroom facility, and utility improvements necessary to make the park a reality. The generosity for the project kept going with local contractors like Peters Construction (the general contractor) and Ackerson Masonry intentionally bidding low to ensure the project was successful. When taking all these contributions into account, the value of the playground development is over $1 million.

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Built with heart and generosity, the goal of Place to Play Park started simply as a mom who wanted a child needing a 5-point harness system to be able to swing next to his sister who does not. A place where children of all abilities can play together with limited boundaries. Place to Play Park is an innovative playground experience that serves users with a wide range of ages and physical and mental abilities. Many playgrounds are designed to accommodate special needs mainly through features on a large structure with ramps for wheelchair accessibility. While these features are helpful, they tend to provide limited opportunities and feel a bit like waiting lines at amusement parks. Inclusive playgrounds are more than wheelchair accessible; they provide open spaces that allow more imagination, invention, and group interaction - more free play. Place to Play playground is purposefully integrated into the landscape to evoke a natural and interactive play experience using plants, boulders, integrated landforms, adventure pathways, and creative use of play surfacing.

Each of the play features is located with sensitivity to activity and noise levels and allows adults to assist and participate with children at play. A quiet zone is provided for those individuals who may feel overwhelmed or overstimulated in some of the other areas of the playground. A communication board, designed and donated by Talk to Me Technologies, allows non-verbal children to point to a picture to indicate where they want to go or what they want to do. The park also features a sensory garden featuring plants with interesting scents, textures, and colors.

Parents and caregivers are provided multiple seating options while being sure their children are in view and safe within an ornamental fence enclosure around the perimeter. The restroom building was built near the entrance to facilitate easy use upon entry and exit and includes changing tables that accommodate larger children or adults, a need often overlooked in the planning of these facilities. The park was designed so that an existing shelter structure could remain as a shaded gathering place with full view of the rest of the facility.

IPEMA certified products were used throughout the park. RKLA worked with Landscape Structures, Inc. to create a nature-based color palette and play equipment that suited the intentions of the project by using several smaller structures and playground pieces and spreading them out through the park. A large hill in the middle of the park provides an accessible route to the top of multiple features, including a hill slide and climbing net. One larger play structure, dubbed "Jude's Jungle" in honor of Corkery's son, was custom built to be accessed by a bridge from the top of the hill and features exploration at all levels that are accessible to everyone. This includes "club house" features in the structure below the main deck as well as climbing features for a variety of skill levels. All of the play elements include opportunities for side-by-side and cooperative play, including ziplines, spinners, a multi-person see-saw, and four different types of swings. The most popular element is the large sand and water feature, where kids can create with wet sand and direct flows of water together.

Both poured-in-place (No Fault Safety Surface) and synthetic grass play surfacing were utilized in the design to provide additional contrast and experience from the curved concrete transition pathways. The synthetic grass provides durable, soft, and pleasantly green surfaces for children on the hills, mounds, and around the play equipment while accommodating the required fall zone safety needed for each area. Durable perennial plants, ornamental trees, and reclaimed granite boulders are utilized in mulched beds around the play surfacing. These beds make the welded wire perimeter fence all but transparent and mean mowing is not required within the playground, easing maintenance requirements, and keeping the play spaces open during the day. Place to Play Park demonstrates the beauty that can be achieved while providing an inclusive play experience for a wide variety of users.

Exposing kids to inclusion teaches empathy, kindness, and friendship. What better way than through play?

As seen in LASN magazine, October 2020.

Filed Under: PLAYGROUND, PARK, IOWA, LASN
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