An accessible community playground for children of all abilities is only days away from opening in the Big Walnut School District.
Safety fence currently surrounds the new playground, which is behind Hylen Souders Elementary at 4121 Miller-Paul Road in Harlem Township. The new addition was placed in the asphalt adjacent to the existing 33-year-old playground and basketball equipment.
Next week, layers of rubber surfacing will be poured around the new equipment; and pending inspections, kids should be able to begin enjoying the new playground on April 15.
Souders PTO member Amy Ranalli was inspired by her son, Marco, 5, who is finishing preschool at the elementary, and will continue to attend there through fourth grade. Marco is unable to lift himself, which means he can’t use the existing equipment. In September 2017, Ranalli approached the PTO, which was discussing replacing some of Souders’ old pieces.
“I said, ‘If you’re going to do upgrades, can we think about things for everyone?’” Ranalli recalled of the beginning of the 20-month process. She was told, “‘We can, and maybe we can do more.’ So within five seconds, there was a fundraising committee, since the school was not able to put any money towards it.”
Along the way, Ranalli also asked the kid-friendly Sunbury Big Walnut Kiwanis for help, and she ended up becoming that fledgling service organization’s president. All told, the successful fundraising drive raised more than $130,000 in donations and grants. So with the help of more than 70 volunteers over nearly four days of four-season Ohio weather, the playground equipment was assembled and installed. The Little Tikes Commercial equipment was purchased from Bluegrass Recreational Products of Danville, Kentucky, which also designed the playground and supervised the volunteers.
The community build shaved off at least $25,000 in labor.
“We were in beast mode for three-and-a-half days,” Ranalli said of the March installation. “It snowed, it rained, there was sleet, a lot of wind. But no volunteer said the heck with this, they turned their backs to the wind and whatever else was falling from the sky and kept going. It set the tone for the momentum of the rest of the build.”
Ranalli brought Marco out to see the progress. She said he was unimpressed until he saw the holes in the ground where poles and posts would be placed. Then everything was, to use Marco’s word, “Good.”
“For some people I know they said, ‘When I got to meet him, it gave me even more reason to be out here,’” Ranalli said. “We had people who came out for a day, were signed up for one shift, stayed on to another shift, weren’t scheduled for the next day but came out anyway because they were just so into it.”
Marco and his friends will get to play on components such as a triple slide, double climbing wall and spinner (merry-go-round) with special features such as ramps, bucket seats, harnesses, and transfer stations so children of all abilities can safely use and enjoy it. The additional equipment should shorten wait times and encourage more cooperation.
“We really had to get the most bang for the buck with each component, so we tried to be really thoughtful,” Ranalli said. “We tried to come at it from a number of angles, but addressed a number of issues from accessibility to having a lot of kids packed in that school, and they have a short 15-minute recess. You got kids out there, you’ve got to get them moving. We looked at our budget, we looked at how many types of ability this can benefit, but we also looked at how can we get more kids on one thing. Not only does that welcome inclusiveness, but it also gets more kids playing instead of waiting. It accommodates all abilities, but it takes a lot of kids, and you’ve got to bring those kids together to do it. It’s getting a lot of kids together for different reasons.”
“We are honored to partner with our school family and community in every step of our mission to allow all children to play together — from fundraising to ribbon-cutting,” said PTO President Shannon Buckler, in a news release. “Working with our neighbors to build the playground will be an incredibly rewarding experience that will cultivate community pride and a sense of ownership in the playground.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.