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New accessible playground designed to tear down fences

The caterpillar located in the early childhood play area and seen here in an artist
The caterpillar located in the early childhood play area and seen here in an artist's rendering is expected to become the 'signature piece' of the new accessible playground.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

A new playground being designed for the Renton Highlands that will literally and figuratively pull down fences and allow a wider range of play for a wider range of students.

Co-located on land owned by the city of Renton and the Renton School District, the new accessible playground will offer play options for children of all ages and developmental abilities.

Designed to foster an inclusive environment where all children can play, the approximately one-acre playground will be built on the spot where two playgrounds currently sit, literally split down the middle by a fence.

"The new facility will be co-located," said Renton Parks Planning and Natural Resource Director Leslie Betlach, adding that there will no exchange of land between the two entities, but an inter-local agreement, which will include issues like maintenance of the new facility, is being drawn up.

Betlach said the idea for a fully accessible and inclusive playground began about three years ago. Betlach said all of the city of Renton's playgrounds are accessible to disabled children to some degree, but the new one will take that to new levels, making sure each piece of play equipment is fully accessible, no matter the child's physical or mental disability.

"It's a playground designed to stimulate the physical, mental and senses and promotes working and playing alongside people who are fully able-bodied," she said.

As designed, Betlach said the playground would be the first of its kind in Renton and the largest fully-accessible playground in the South Sound.

Carol Henry, landscape architect for Design Concepts, the firm responsible for designing the new playground, agreed. Henry was on hand at the city council's committee of the whole meeting Monday night to provide an update on the project.

"It will be like no other that you have," she told the council.

Henry said it was not enough to create a playground that students with disabilities could get to, but that there needed to be a place for all children to play "side by side."

"We're trying to make this not just an accessible playground, but an inclusive one," she said.

To that extent, the designers have incorporated a series of themes into the new facility, including developmental-based features and equipment that can accommodate a broad range of age groups and abilities and encourage interaction between children of varied abilities.

"We're not just getting some swing sets and four square," she said.

The new playground will be interconnected by paths, but split into multiple play areas, including an early childhood section, a nature play area, an area for older children with a climbing wall and even a "wavy walk" and music area.

"We don't have music in any of our playgrounds," Betlach said.

The early childhood area will also contain what Henry called the playground's "signature piece," a giant caterpillar for children to climb on and around.

Betlach said the caterpillar is a one-of-a-kind specialty item being made for the park.

Also in the playground will be swings designed specifically for a wheelchair so children who cannot walk will still be able to swing.

While the playground has not yet been put out to bid, Betlach said the cost estimate is between $1 million and $2 million.

The city has lined up several community partners, including many that gave six-figure donations for the facility.

The Renton Community Foundation's Custer Fund donated $200,000 for the playground. Another $150,000 came from the First Financial Northwest Foundation and an additional $124,000 came from the Renton Rotary.

The city also received a $65,000 King County Youth Sports Facility grant.

All involved talked about the great community partnerships making this project possible.

"It's a wonderful community asset that goes well beyond the school district," said Renton District Spokesperson Randy Matheson.

"The fact that we were able to pull this together is a testament to our close working relationship with the City of Renton (and local service organizations)," he said. "It's how government should work."

Donations at any level - down to $10 and $25 - are also being accepted as the city encourages citizens to get involved in the new playground.

"Any donations help add to the pieces (in the playground)," said Community Services Department Administrator Terry Higashiyama.

For more information, visit www.rentonwa.gov.

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