Tour to aid special needs kids

FAIRMONT — A wheelchair-accessible swing is the sole piece of playground equipment available to special needs youngsters in Fairmont’s parks, but this swing, purchased with a donation from CHS, snowballed into a movement to create an entire playground with features that are accessible to all ages and abilities.

The annual MOSS (Many Offerings of Special Support) garden tour, set for June 24, has changed its traditional beneficiary from an individual special needs child to donate proceeds to the accessible playground effort, which will be used by all children, regardless of abilities.

An accessible playground task force, composed of parents, teachers and others who supply services to special needs individuals, has been meeting to lay the groundwork for the playground and develop fundraising strategies. The task force has been working with Flagship Landscapes of Minneapolis, a firm that has built accessible playgrounds throughout the country.

The tentative site for the playground is Gomsrud Park, northwest of the shelter house, but nothing is finalized.

“The location is open for debate, but we feel it is the strongest contender,” said Shelly Krahmer, a task force member who recently explained the project to the Fairmont Park Board. “With this location, we’d be able to leverage the existing park facilities, like the parking lot and bathrooms.”

Utilizing existing infrastructure will help reduce the project’s cost, estimated to be about $450,000.

“Half of that cost is surfacing, but that’s a key component to making it work,” Krahmer said. “It’s not a good surface to try to install incrementally.”

The thick rubber-base surface allows for safe movement for everyone, especially those with mobility challenges, and should be installed in one piece. The designers estimate the base, which can be patched and repaired, will have a 20-year life span in Minnesota’s environment. A similar base at a Lakeville facility is 15 years old and has had no issues with deterioration.

“This would be a place for all abilities, physical and cognitive, and today’s playgrounds just don’t fit that bill,” Krahmer said. “It’s not just a piece of equipment that’s different. It’s the whole design.”

The surface would be ramped and designed to handle multiple children and adults. The design includes transfer points for people to get in and out of wheelchairs and onto the equipment, which has supportive seats.

“Most of the equipment will seat multiple kids, but it has a multi-generational aspect so it’s big enough for adults as well,” she said. “There are no size or weight restrictions. It’s easy for parents with special needs or aging grandparents to utilize.”

One aspect of the playground is a “cozy dome,” a sensory shelter that is quiet and less stimulating, which makes it ideal for children with autism.

“One thing that everybody notices is the zipline. It’s been tremendously successful. It’s something most kids with special needs never get to experience,” Krahmer said.

Other communities have built or are in the process of building accessible playgrounds. Fairmont’s would be about 10,000 square feet, which is larger than New Ulm’s at 8,300 square feet. Work is underway on a 19,000-square-foot park in Mankato, and hundreds of Willmar residents recently worked for nine days to construct a $900,000 park that they say is the largest fully accessible facility in a five-state area.

“This is really exciting for the city of Fairmont and the surrounding communities,” said Krahmer, noting many special needs families from throughout the region come to Fairmont to utilize the clinical and school services available here.

A team from Mankato’s accessible playground task force has been working with the local group to apply for national, regional and local grants.

“We know we’re not going to be able to raise that kind of money without help,” Krahmer said.

For more information about the accessible playground, contact Krahmer at Skrahmer@krahmerfarms.com, Paul Spencer at 324sports@gmail.com or Sara Pierce at sara@stevenepiercecpa.com

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