Ashley Garvin did something on Wednesday she doesn’t often get to do: She climbed to the top of a play structure in her wheelchair, part of Edina’s new inclusive playground at Rosland Park.
Ashley, 13, has cerebral palsy. She has limited mobility and is nonverbal. With her mother Jenny watching from the ground, her father, Mike, pushed her wheelchair up the structure’s twists and turns, all the way to the top.
“I think it’s very isolating some of the time when you have a disability,” Jenny Garvin said. “Having opportunities to do just regular things outside of therapy ... with people that are your own age is nice. It’s a joyful experience that all kids need.”
Ashley and dozens of other children donned caps and gloves for the cold drizzle that fell Wednesday during the grand opening of the Rosland Park playground. Mayor Jim Hovland cut the ceremonial ribbon and joined other city officials who sipped on hot chocolate from the sidelines.
“We want all of the kids in our town to feel like they can do anything, regardless of ability,” Hovland said. “We want to have that accessibility for our park equipment.”
Susan Faus, Edina’s assistant parks and recreation director, said the city has for years wanted to have an inclusive playground. “We felt that it could be a draw and a destination,” she said.
A growing trend goes west
There are playgrounds with accessible features in many green spaces in the Twin Cities. Since 2013, inclusive playgrounds have opened in Brooklyn Park, Minneapolis, Lakeville, Shoreview and Woodbury.
Building what is also known as a “barrier free” playground is a costly project that usually involves collaboration among cities, schools and families. Landscape Structures, based in Delano, Minn., released a poll this month showing that only one in six families in the U.S. has access to an inclusive playground at their immediate neighborhood.
“Every city right now is saying, ‘We need one of these,’ ” said Harlan Lehman, president of Minnesota/Wisconsin Playground. “There has never been one in Edina and I don’t believe there is one in the western [inner-ring] suburbs.”
Inclusive playgrounds typically include surfaces and wide ramps that are accessible for wheelchairs, as well as sensory activities and equipment such as swings with harnesses.
Lehman said Edina officials asked the company in April to design and build an inclusive playground. The Rosland Park playground was designed to follow standard safety regulations, as well as those set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that “guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations.”
“This requires a big budget and a big space,” Lehman said. “And as much as we would want to put one of these in every single neighborhood, there just isn’t enough room.”
Residents provided input on what features they wanted the playground to have before the final design was approved.
“ ‘Barrier free’ means being able to access every single point in the main structure. … And it’s not cheap,” Lehman said.
The project cost $300,000, including $25,000 contributed by an anonymous donor, he said. The city funded it through its capital improvement project plan, Faus said.
The playground was designed to enable anyone with physical, sensory or developmental disabilities to use it. The main playground structure — including its peak at 8 feet — is accessible to all.
That structure has “a firm stable surface that a wheelchair, walker or even someone with an artificial limb could walk through really easily,” Lehman said.
Interactive panels and inscribed details in the structure’s framework are designed to aid those with sensory processing disorders, such as children on the autism spectrum. Of the playground’s six swings, two are designed for those who use wheelchairs and two allow an adult to sit and interact with an infant.
One of the playground’s unique features is a double zip line, 35 feet long. There’s a merry-go-round and a smaller, separate play structure for little kids.
Lehman and city officials hope that not just children use the playground, but adults and seniors as well.
“It’s amazing to see the expression on kids’ faces for the first time, or [those of] parents for that matter,” said Lehman, who was at the opening Wednesday.
Construction of the playground started in late September and continued through last week. It is one of two playgrounds being replaced in Edina this year; the city is also replacing one in Weber Park about four miles north of Rosland Park.
The city is expected to keep the Rosland Park playground and other playgrounds open throughout the season.
“It won’t officially close. We keep our playgrounds open as long as weather permits,” Faus said.