Saturday was a great day to head out to the playground and enjoy the summer sunshine.
In Olive Branch, it was an even greater day to play, because a new segment of the playing public was able to do something they had previously not been able to do.
That’s because the new all-inclusive playground at the Olive Branch City Park was officially opened with a ribbon cutting, food and refreshments, and, of course, fun.
The new playground at the park is unique in a number of ways, but most prominently by its ability to allow all youngsters, with or without disabilities, the opportunity to savor the same level of playing enjoyment.
The $650,000 playground replaces one that met compliance standards with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but still wouldn’t allow everyone from sliding, swinging or anything else a playground offers, said Mayor Scott Phillips.
“It’s all-inclusive, it has wheelchair swings, it has wheelchair access to different levels in the playground and different activities in the playground,” Phillips said. “It also has shade in it so the parents can come, sit in the middle of it and just enjoy the day. It really compliments our park that we already are blessed to have.”
Comprising 17,000 square feet, the area offers play structures, one for children ages 2-5 and another for kids ages 5-12. There are swings for tots, youngsters in a wheelchair, a locking seat back and regular swings.
There is also a Harmony Park Musical Instruments area and a climbing rope tower.
The surface at the playground comprises rubber around the play structures with artificial turf in between.
Restroom areas were also renovated to accommodate more people as part of the project.
Another feature is that the slide is a metal one, which Phillips was installed with a specific reason in mind.
“We knew that a plastic slide would actually discharge the cochlear ear implants so we had a solution for that,” Phillips said. “Kids can still play for those kids who can’t slide down a plastic slide, because we have a metal one. It was something that took a little while to research but the team we put together in place with the parks director and all of our staff really worked out well.”
The playground was constructed by Great Southern Recreation of Murfreesboro, Tenn. and part of the funding came from a grant administered by the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks for the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The rest of the money came as part of a bond issue the city acquired that included funding for park improvements, Phillips said.
After attending a conference on all-inclusive playgrounds three years ago, Parks and Recreation Dept. Director Will McNeer said he took to heart the fact that not all of the kids could use the playground they had in place at the time and something needed to be done.
“It was needed and I’m glad I am finally able to meet my mission statement of providing parks and recreation for everyone, all of those with disabilities and the accessibility options that we have,” McNeer said. “It’s going to be tremendous boost to this community.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.