Playground aims to remove barriers for having fun

Olivia Campbell, and her parents, were front and center at the future site of a play space that aims to give all children access to fun.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Sept. 20 at Wesley Chapel’s District Park for its new universally inclusive playground – the first in Pasco County.

The amenity will be designed to accommodate children who have special needs, such as Olivia, who has Down Syndrome.

“Inclusive playgrounds actually make a fundamental statement about how communities value meaningful play experiences for people of all ages and abilities,” said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore, who helped conceptualize the playground.

Pasco County Commissioners Jack Mariano and Kathryn Starkey, Erik Wangsness, Pasco County Commissioners Ron Oakley and Mike Moore, Mark Metheny, Eric Johnson and Keith Wiley officiate the groundbreaking of Wesley Chapel District Park’s new playground, on Sept. 20. (Brian Fernandes)

“We believe in creating play environments where everybody can play, focusing on both the physical and social aspects of inclusion,” Moore said at the gathering, which included Pasco County officials, local residents and representatives from organizations that provided financial support for the project.

Moore has spent a fair amount of time at the district park, while coaching teams there.

During those times at the park, Moore said he noticed that there were no suitable accommodations for children with disabilities.

Moore talked it over with Keith Wiley, director of Pasco County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, and together they began an initiative to create an inclusive playground.

In addition to researching other inclusive playgrounds, they spoke with special needs organizations for suggestions.

The new play space will be next to the park’s existing playground, with the two connected by sidewalks.

This will come in handy for Olivia, who frequents the park about four times a week to watch her sisters play soccer.

Her father, Stuart remarked: “We spend a lot of time at the park, so we’re absolutely ecstatic that they’re doing such a good project. To have a playground for all abilities will be absolutely amazing for her.”

Her mother, Tammy, said Olivia’s biggest challenge is climbing up the bars to reach other equipment on the current playground.

The new playground will have equipment stationed at a low level for easier access.

Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore gave opening remarks at the groundbreaking of Wesley Chapel District Park’s new playground, on Sept. 20. The new amenity will be Pasco County’s first handicap-accessible playground.

The 7,000-square-foot facility will include rubber flooring – for safety and a smoother ride for those in wheelchairs.

It also features canopy-shaded benches, and will be near a butterfly garden.

Donors that helped make the project possible are the Wesley Chapel Rotary Club, AdventHealth Wesley Chapel and the Lennar Foundation.

Representatives from each organization were present at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Their contributions, along with the county’s park impact fees, amounted to  $340,000 toward the project.

“[At] AdventHealth Wesley Chapel hospital, we take care of sick people every day,” said Erik Wangsness, the hospital’s CEO. “But, another part of our mission is to nurture the health of the community.”

Chris Casella, president of the local Rotary club, added that he and his members instantly knew the project would be worth taking on.

Pasco County Commissioners Kathryn Starkey, Jack Mariano, Ron Oakley and Mike Moore stepped onto the site’s barren ground with organization representatives.

With hard hats and shovels in hand, they posed for the customary groundbreaking snapshot.

Even Olivia got the opportunity to stand among the group.

“The good thing – I think – about this playground, is she’s actually going to meet children like her,” Olivia’s mother said.

The project is expected to be completed in November.

Published September 25, 2019

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