Proponents of a universal playground system for the Steamboat Springs School District hope to have slippery and uneven surfaces such as gravel, sand and snow replaced with flat rubber platforms enabling all students, including those with disabilities, to access playground equipment.

Photo by Brian Ray

Proponents of a universal playground system for the Steamboat Springs School District hope to have slippery and uneven surfaces such as gravel, sand and snow replaced with flat rubber platforms enabling all students, including those with disabilities, to access playground equipment.

Support for playground effort

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— Julie Taulman and Shelly St. Pierre are one step closer to seeing a playground accessible to their sons, and all children, after the Steamboat Springs School District contributed $50,000 to the cause Tuesday.

"We are thrilled to have them make that contribution," said Taulman, whose "Friends for New Playgrounds" group has now raised $85,000 toward the $750,000 project.

"It shows the school district's support of our efforts," she said. "In addition to their contribution, the district has also helped with other things, like loaning us their grant writer and other in-kind support."

Taulman and St. Pierre hope to build "universal playgrounds" at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools. Such playgrounds are designed to accommodate children with mental and physical disabilities as well as able-bodied children, who won't notice the differences from typical jungle gyms.

"The playground at Strawberry Park was built with love 26 years ago and while the wood structure has been maintained, it has outlived its usefulness and is no longer safe or accessible for many of our students with special needs," said St. Pierre, whose son Remy, 5, suffers from spinal muscular atrophy.

Taulman's son Kyle, 5, was paralyzed from the waist down after a tumor wrapped around his spinal cord when he was 2.

"We are hoping to see corporations, service organizations and other individuals step up with contributions to make these playgrounds a reality for our kids," Taulman said. Both parents' children attend Strawberry Park.

"There will also be many opportunities for (in-kind) gifts for such things as civil engineering work, excavating and possibly even labor to install equipment," Taulman said.

Soft rubber padding would replace wood chips as a playing surface, allowing wheelchairs and walkers to access the area. Taulman said the increased accessibility comes with a price, but she hopes a three-pronged fundraising approach will raise as much as $750,000.

"We hope to ask the Education Fund Board for $250,000, and $250,000 from the public and $250,000 from grants and the school district," she said.

Individuals and businesses can make a tax-free donation to a playground fund set up through the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.

Interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser said the proposed state-of-the-art playgrounds would be an important addition to the school district.

"26 years ago, our community gave us a gift that has been treasured by many generations of kids in our community," she said. "This new playground design will enhance our community by providing two barrier-free parks that our kids will be able to play on year-round for the next generation."

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