September 15, 2014

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Amherst inclusive playground on target for July opening

AMHERST — The biggest achievement of the nearly completed $400,000 inclusive outdoor playground at the Mercy Health and Recreation Center isn’t just the splash pad, treehouse or fishing dock.

A playground that allows children with physical limitations to participate in cooperative activities is on target for an early July opening in Amherst. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

A playground that allows children with physical limitations to participate in cooperative activities is on target for an early July opening in Amherst. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

It’s the way in which the area will allow families of youngsters of varying physical and emotional abilities and limitations to play side by side.

“They won’t feel or be apart,” Lorain County Metro Parks Director Jim Ziemnik said.

“We hear stories of families who can’t go to the park and use the playground because one child has a disability that doesn’t enable them to be on certain equipment their brother or sister who isn’t disabled can use,” Ziemnik said.

“Now all children of varying sizes, shapes and abilities can play cooperatively,” Ziemnik said.

The adaptive playground is said to be one of the most advanced in the country.

Construction crews are putting finishing touches on the playground ranging from landscaping to features in the splash pad that will let children play with water cannons, and archways beneath which water can cascade down on kids able to walk as well as those seated in wheelchairs.

“The next two days, our crews are really going to be busy,” Ziemnik said Tuesday.

The 9,500-square-foot center opened in February. It includes an eight-lane swimming pool with a sloped entry lane for wheelchairs, an upper-level fitness center with running and walking track and 60-plus pieces of exercise equipment, including rowing machines and resistance-training stations.

Rehabilitation services include aquatic therapy offered in a special pool outfitted with a submerged treadmill.

Ziemnik expects to have work on the playground substantially finished by the end of the week, while work on the splash pad, including pouring of concrete and installation of some features, will continue.

Major features of the playground include a treehouse marked by a series of ramps that will enable children with various disabilities and those in wheelchairs to ascend.

“Kids who have never had the ability to go up in a treehouse will now be able to,” Ziemnik said.

One of the park district director’s favorite features are sets of traditional swings next to specially designed swings able to accommodate wheelchairs that can be locked in place on a platform.

“Most of the pieces were recommended by parents of children with disabilities,” Ziemnik said. “We did our best to accommodate that.”

The playground will open at a 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony July 3.

Daily admission is $2 during the summer. Admission is included with memberships to the rec center.

The playground is the last major feature to be completed at the $7 million community rec and health center, which was built through various funding sources, including $2 million donated by Mercy Regional Medical Center as well as from businesses including Lorain National Bank, Mike Bass Ford, Friends of Murray Ridge, Friends of Metro Parks, Community Foundation of Lorain County, Lowe’s and Drug Mart.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.