LODI — The mother of a special needs child will be speaking to the Lodi City Council on Wednesday, urging city leaders to consider creating an all-inclusive playground at a local park.
Devon VanDyke said when the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department sent out a survey last week asking residents what they’d like to see at Beckman Park, she suggested making the amenities wheelchair accessible.
She said because her son Emmett Jewell, 4, is in a wheelchair, she rarely takes him to local parks because he can’t use a majority of playground equipment.
Now, she’d like to see one of the city’s existing parks be transitioned into something children of all abilities can enjoy.
“Every park in Lodi is made for the ‘typical’ child,” she said. “It only seems fair we could have one where Emmett can play, and where all children can play. When he was younger I could hold him as we went down the slide or we used the swing. Now that he’s older, he’s gained weight and I can’t hold him like I used to.”
The city is currently rebuilding Candy Cane Park on Holly Drive, and has plans to replace the playground equipment at Beckman Park on West Century Boulevard.
Vandyke lives just a few blocks from Emerson Park on North Hutchins Street. She does not have a particular park in mind to convert to an all-inclusive facility, but would like to see something similar to Magical Bridge Park in Palo Alto.
Created by the Magical Bridge Foundation, the park opened in 2015 and has been touted as the nation’s most innovative and inclusive playground, according to the organization’s website.
The park features slides, swings, carousels and play structures that can accommodate children in wheelchairs, as well as flat and soft surfaces, auditory features and a ramp into the playground, among other amenities.
Vandyke believes the city could build an all-inclusive playground for as much as $200,000 through Measure L funds.
Measure L, approved by voters last year, raised Lodi’s sales tax from 7.75 cents per dollar to 8.25 cents per dollar and is estimated to generate $5.2 million in revenue for police, fire, parks and library services.
According to a July Measure L Oversight Committee meeting presentation, the city anticipates spending $843,7000 on playground replacement and tree maintenance during the 2019-20 fiscal year.
However, according to abc7news.com in the Bay Area, private donations mainly funded the $4 million Magical Bridge playground that inspired Vandyke’s efforts.
According to www.wsbt.com, the city of Goshen, just outside South Bend, Ind., recently built an inclusive playground with features similar to what Vandyke has suggested — at the cost of nearly $500,000.
The news station reported that the Goshen community — including individuals, nonprofit organizations and corporations — raised more than $400,000 to help pay for the park.
Jeff Hood, PRCS director, said costs for an inclusive playground could be as much as $1 million just for the play equipment. Soft surfaces, fencing and Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility features into the park cost an additional amount of funds.
If the city had the ability and funding to create an all-inclusive playground, Hood said Katzakian Park on West Turner Road would be a contender as ADA parking spaces and sidewalks are already in place in its parking lot.
Many of the city’s parks can only offer on-street parking that is not conducive to ADA requirements as there is little to no room to build parking lots.
“(Katzakian) is a viable location,” Hood said. “The department supports the concept of an all-inclusive playground, but the reality is there’s not enough money to make it happen.”
Vandyke said she has been researching grant and funding options to help the city explore the idea, adding she will be meeting with Hood and other city staff prior to next week’s city council meeting to discuss her ideas.
She said she was willing to take on the responsibility of finding outside grants and donations and all the legwork involved.
“I just think this is something that’s really important for all of our kids,” she said. “Typical kids don’t know how to interact with our kids. If they see a kid with a disability playing on a park like this, then they’ll see they can have fun too and that we’re all the same.”