Building Community

Usually, community recreation and park needs are easy to identify. It’s meeting the need and creating reality based on a dream that’s the hard part.

Whether it’s lack of funds, land or manpower, if one thing is lacking it can kill a project. In the case of Janesville, Wis., and Jackson Township, N.J., the hurdle over the barriers was community involvement. Whether it was a community build by definition, or simply canvassing the community for help, both got the job done in spectacular fashion.

Two Up, Two Down

In Janesville, Wis., its first community built playground, completed in 1993, was such a big success the city did it again more recently.

“Many communities give community-build a once-and-out,” says Janesville’s city park director, Tom Presny.

“In order for it to be successful you have to have a good understanding of the process before you get into it. It requires a considerable amount of time. I tried to keep a lot of the work to evenings and late afternoons so that it wouldn’t eat into precious operations time.

“Also, I didn’t get too sucked into the details of the project, but delegated. There are a host of coordinators for such things as volunteer signup, food, first aid, public relations, tools, donations, and so forth. Keeping people to task and letting the community feel the ownership is the critical component for success.”

Presny adds that there are organizations that provide coordination, and the playground companies are also helpful in providing direction.

At Janesville’s first community build in Camden Park, the build would extend beyond the playground and include surrounding infrastructure.

Camden’s focus was to be 100-percent handicap accessible, which brought up questions about parking, restroom needs and pavilions and other structures with accessible features. A walkway that could accommodate wheelchairs was also missing.

“The ingredient for success is to spark a flame in some element of the project, realize the talent available and expose that talent more completely commits them to a community build larger than the playground itself,” says Presny.

“It isn’t a jurisdiction or agency that can make this successful, but it’s the community itself and the various businesses in town that can help. If you have a family with a disabled child pleading with them that their time and talent is critical to the success of this project, it’s hard to turn down. And, if you can get them vying in support of each other through additional references it becomes a type of community involvement among themselves.”

In order to get the most accessible playground possible, Presny says the committee was introduced to and presentations were given by groups like Easter Seals, March of Dimes, Ronald McDonald House, the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped, and disabled children and their families.

“One of the first things the committee got to understand was the requirements, but we set those aside and to see how we could rise above the challenge and come up with the most appealing and satisfying experience for the disabled,” says Presny.

“Even with the regulations, understand what these children want and what they lack — an exciting, energetic experience — so let’s create something that goes to the limits to create that. We need to make sure we follow all the codes and regulations, but when you have a blind child or a disabled child in front of you, and the parents are telling you their challenges it provides further impetus.”

Meeting Special Needs

In Jackson Township, the charge was to not only create a fully-accessible playground, but to create one only for special-needs kids. Furthermore, this playground would strive to accommodate all types of special needs.

“Years ago we had a special needs park. It was a beautiful facility. However, it was in isolated area without security, and it got demolished. There was no able park nearby, and kids didn’t use the equipment properly. Over time the kids destroyed the equipment,” explains Vincent Rubio, who was on the township’s special needs committee, and has been working with special needs children for years.

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