Photo by Brian Ray
Lowell Whiteman Primary School students Tamy Katthin, right, and Mae Thorp play in the snow on the makeshift playground at Soda Creek Elementary School in Steamboat Springs on Thursday.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Steamboat Springs The wooden playground at Strawberry Park Elementary School has served students for more than two decades, but Julie Taulman and Shelly St. Pierre believe it's time to replace the aging structure with one that will be accessible to all children, including those with disabilities.
"We both have kindergartners at Strawberry Park this year, and they both have disabilities," Taulman said about her son Kyle, 5, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a tumor wrapped around his spinal cord when he was 2. St. Pierre's son Remy, 5, suffers from spinal muscular atrophy.
"Neither of them are able to play on the playground," Taulman said. "We started the idea for a 'universal playground' because of our children's needs, but we knew it would grow, and it wouldn't just be about our kids."
Taulman and St. Pierre aim to not only have a new playground built at Strawberry Park, but also one built at the new Soda Creek Elementary School.
Universal 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.
"Strawberry Park was a need, but Soda Creek was an opportunity," Taulman said. "The district was taking down the playground at Soda Creek anyway, but at Strawberry Park, it just didn't meet code anymore. It's built out of wood, which is no viable option for building in a school district anymore. It's dangerous. It's not accessible."
Todd Ficken, the project manager for the district's construction projects, said he is impressed with the progress and dedication of a playground committee formed specifically to raise money for the construction of universal playgrounds at both elementary schools.
"These playgrounds are pretty cool," he said. "Most schools, when they upgrade the playground, this is where they are going. They are designed to allow physically impaired kids to really get involved and not feel left out. It's more than just play, there is actually some thought on how the equipment is designed for a learning experience."
Soft rubber padding would replace wood chips as a playing surface, allowing wheelchairs and walkers access to the area. Taulman said the increased accessibility comes with a price, but she hopes a three-pronged fundraising approach will raise as much as $800,000.
A community fundraising arm has already raised $33,000 from the Parent Information Committees at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park. Other possible funding sources include grants and the Education Fund Board, which manages the city's half-cent sales tax for education.
"We hope to raise at least $250,000 from each fund-raising source," Taulman said.
Individuals and businesses can make a tax-free donation to a playground fund set up through the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.
"We want to match whatever we get from the Fund Board, and there are a lot of grants that we can access because the playgrounds will be universal to all," Taulman said.
Although Taulman and St. Pierre's children attend Strawberry Park, they stressed that whatever money is raised will be split between the two schools.
"They would be equitable, but not identical," she said of the potential playgrounds. "We want kids to go to one or the other and have fun at either one."
St. Pierre said the playgrounds would be a resource to not only benefit children, but also the entire community.
"I see the playground will benefit parents who have disabilities who currently can't access it, and some can't even get to the sides to truly watch their children," she said. "And for the children, everybody needs to learn how to get along and play. There are parts of the kids' community that are excluded, and they don't get that true picture of playing with all."