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Play has no limit at new Inclusive Playground

Sue Guinn Legg • Apr 4, 2017 at 11:07 PM

Children of all ages and all levels of physical ability were given the opportunity to play without boundaries Tuesday at the long-awaited opening of the Inclusive Playground and Splash Pad at Rotary Park.

Dozens of Johnson City Rotary Club members, city and county officials, key project partners and their children gathered for an afternoon dedication ceremony highlighted by a ribbon cutting and grand trial run all around the playground.

And with a royal blue ribbon cut into small pieces at the entrance, Rotary Club President Gary McAllister called out for everyone to go in and play.

“Please move forward. Let the kids go enjoy. Big kids, old kids, kids of all ages, please go enjoy the park,” he shouted.

And they all did.

That included McAllister and Johnson City Mayor David Tomita, who minutes later met on the splash pad for an impromptu playground christening under the dump buckets.

Seven years, several city park and recreation directors and $750,000 in contributions after the club first presented the playground concept to the city, Rotarian Mike Mefford said, “It feels like there are a million of you that have helped to make this a reality.”

Mefford, who co-chaired the project, called city Public Works Director Phil Pindzola “the genius behind so much of this.”

He recognized Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge for a phone call that put the club on the trail of a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Environment and Conservation.

And he gave special thanks to two young women, Katie Willet and Malea Sampsel, who as physical therapy graduate students at East Tennessee State University, did the research that gave the club the confidence and the needs assessment data it needed to move forward.

Willet, who has since graduated and moved away from Johnson City, returned for the playground’s opening on Tuesday and brought along her husband and her toddler to try it out.

As a capstone project for their doctorate degrees in physical therapy, Willet said she and Sampsel gathered the data on school children with disabilities in the greater Johnson City area who could benefit from a playground that removed the physical boundaries to playing with other children and  the social development that comes with it.

“It’s amazing,” Willet said as children and adults enjoyed the end result. “It’s special that this will be here for years to come, available for people of all ages and all abilities.”

The play equipment includes wide ramps and other features designed for people who depend on assistive devices such as wheelchairs, special features for people with visual and hearing impairments, “zero-gravity swings” that enable people with special needs to swing alongside friends, “impression swings” that allow infants and adults to swing facing each other, cushioned turf, and a merry-go-round with supportive seats to allow those who cannot walk to ride.

Tom Rogers with the Game Time manufacturing company, which produced much of the equipment, presented the club, the city and the Park and Recreation Department with certificates recognizing the Johnson City Rotary Club Inclusive Playground as a National Inclusive Play Demonstration Site.

The playground was also recognized as a 2017 winner of the John S. Wilder Rebuild Tennessee Award from Tennessee Development District Association.

Located at  Rotary Park at 1001 N. Broadway St., the playground will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, April 1 through Oct. 31. Its splash pad will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day, weather permitting.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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