By Philip Haldiman
Peoria is working to make two public playgrounds inclusive for all children.
Rio Vista and Sweetwater play-areas will receive a number of improvements that go beyond Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for children with disabilities.
At a March 20 public meeting, City Council approved the following: $80,000 to fund the design process to update the Rio Vista Park Inclusive Play Area, near Loop 101 and Thunderbird Road, as well as $150,601 to complete funding to update Sweetwater Park, at 75th and Sweetwater avenues.
In addition to the Sweetewater Park playground replacement, other updates will include new shade features, paint, landscape and LED lights, as well as an improved restroom building, ramadas and tennis courts.
Mayor Cathy Carlat said she is very appreciative the city is installing inclusive playgrounds at various places throughout the city.
The goal is to begin updating Sweetwater Park in the coming weeks and complete the Rio Vista playground around Labor Day.
“It is so important that we reach all our citizens and allow all of them to have the ability to play and to be included in the playgrounds we build,” she said.
Seven city parks have been refreshed to include inclusive elements. Rio Vista and Sweetwater parks will continue a plan to implement such elements as parks continue to be updated, as well as new park construction, including Paloma Park.
Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities Director John Sefton said updated and new parks go beyond meeting federal ADA guidelines to be accessible to all individuals. Updated and new playgrounds will have amenities for children with physical, cognitive and sensory disabilities.
“This is becoming the standard for us,” Mr. Sefton said.
Rio Vista Park
The Rio Vista Park play-area improvements for inclusivity are budgeted in the 2020 Capital Improvement Budget, but funds are being moved now to begin design and public outreach.
Jake Eason, neighborhood and community parks manager, said it is important the city be intentional about including these elements for the play-area, and focus on amenities that can sustain for a very long time.
An example would be taking a bare sidewalk and integrating an LED light element that can be displayed and projected on the hardscape, transforming the park at night.
Other elements could include energy harvesting to power such projection displays as well as educational and interpretive signs to promote children’s engagement with the site.
He said elements like these would be explored during the design process.
“Thinking of playgrounds, you usually think of the physical, but we need to focus on the entire child — the social, the emotional, the sensory, the cognitive, as well as a communication piece,” Mr. Eason said.
Mr. Eason said that in developing the design of the playground at Sweetwater Park, the city reached out to local schools for input from children and asked them what amenities they would like.
“We engaged with them because they are the experts,” he said. “They provided really good feedback — what works good, what doesn’t work good. They really enjoyed the process of seeing the park transition from paper and into a construction process. And eventually it will be an actual recreational amenity that they can use on a daily basis.”
Councilwoman Vicki Hunt appreciated brining children into the process.
“That went way beyond getting their input, you are creating citizens of the future, creating members of our community who feel they have a voice and hopefully they will exercise that as they go on through school. I don’t remember anybody asking me what I wanted or what my children or even grandchildren wanted. So this is just amazing,” she said.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-6743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.