Community gets first look at innovative inclusive park at grand opening

Double-wide playground ramps offer inclusive play opportunities.
Double-wide playground ramps offer inclusive play opportunities.

By Matthew Liebenberg

Swift Current’s state-of-the art inclusive park was immediately a big hit with the community at the well attended grand opening, Sept. 6.

A large number of families were eager to explore the Plewis Automotive Group Inclusive Park located at 440 Central Avenue South on the site of the former Palliser Care Centre.

The buzz and laughter of children at play created a loud soundtrack for the formal opening ceremony and the remarks by dignitaries were barely audible, but it was sweet music to everyone involved with the creation of the park.

“I’m happy that this is what you can hear,” Ryan Plewis from the Plewis Automotive Group told the audience. “What I have to say today pales vastly in comparison to what you’re hearing back here, and this is what it’s really all about.”

City General Manager of Community Services Nicole Spenst emceed the formal proceedings. She expressed gratitude in her concluding remarks to everyone who helped to make the park a reality.

“This facility truly gives me goosebumps every time I’m on site,” she said. “I almost had tears this morning when I saw the We-Go-Round starts being played on. So the park opens doors and opportunities to provide everyone experiences for social, cognitive and physical play. True play for all, for the entire community and the southwest.”

City Parks Manager Michael Newell said after the grand opening ceremony it was exciting to see the number of children and families present at the event.

“This is exactly what we wanted when we envisioned this playground,” he noted. “It’s a dream realized. I looked at concept drawings of this and now I get to stand here and look at it. So it’s fantastic.”

Wheelchair users Tayla Reynolds and Madison Lawrence explored the park with family members and friends.

“I love it,” Reynolds said. “It’s a dream come true. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this place and it’s just awesome.”

She felt the best thing about the park is that she can be with all her friends. One of her favourite features in the park is the We-Go-Round, which is an inclusive merry-go-round.

Peydence Hartley, who has known Reynolds since kindergarten, shared her friend’s happiness about the inclusive park, because it is a place they can visit together. She said they did not even go to a park in the past.

“We couldn’t really go to the park, because there wasn’t really anything to do,” Hartley noted.

Lawrence felt the new park is a really cool place to hang out, because it is so different from other parks.

“I could go to a park because I can use crutches, but I couldn’t use it that much,” she said.

She was surprised about how much equipment there is in this park and she really enjoyed the We-Go-Swing, which provides easy roll-on access for a wheelchair.

“It’s just fun to get to go on a swing with someone,” she said.

Several factors made it possible for the City of Swift Current to proceed with the development of the 9,000 square feet playground surface. The project received $750,000 in federal financial support from the Canada Community Revitalization Fund through Prairies Economic Development Canada. The Plewis Automotive Group contributed $100,000 through a naming right agreement with the City and the provincial government made the land available through a long-term lease agreement.

Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley made a case at the provincial level for an arrangement with the City, which resulted in negotiations through the Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement and eventual cabinet approval. The 30-year agreement makes the land available at a nominal fee of a dollar per year, but in reality the land will be used permanently as a park.

“My understanding is, when we were taking it through the SaskBuilds board, there had to be some sort of an end date on it,” Hindley explained. “But the assurance was given by the City and by myself as the local MLA saying this is going to be an inclusive park. It’s not going to be turned into a commercial development or some other sort of property. This will be a park in perpetuity.”

According to Ryan Plewis, who has been a City councillor since 2009, the idea of an inclusive park had been discussed during planning and budget sessions for probably 10 years.

“It always gets tough when you start trying to find budget funds for all of these great ideas that people have to improve the community or to improve services for people,” he said.

He emphasized this is a park for everyone and it represents not only a physical space. It is a concrete step towards accessibility, inclusivity, and a sense of belonging that can be shared by all members of the community.

The decision by the Plewis Automotive Group to support the project financially was made after he attended community consultations, where multiple suggestions were made for some tweaks to the concept and the addition of equipment.

“It just wasn’t exactly fitting within the budget that the City had and so that’s where the idea came from is that this would be a way that we could step up and make sure that this park was lacking nothing that people were asking for,” he said. “It was an easy discussion for us at the Automotive Group table, because we all fundamentally believe that it’s the right thing to do to support communities that support us.”

The inclusive park has many innovative design features. The washrooms have touch button access and adult change tables, which is a first for Swift Current parks. Double-wide playground ramps allow wheelchair users to have fun together.

A wide roller slide can be used by more than one child at the same time. The rollers provide a sensory experience and it avoids static electricity that can interfere with hearing aids. The unique shape of the playground and the colour scheme helps to promote imaginative play.

The City awarded the tender for the supply and installation of play equipment to Playgrounds-R-Us and playground consultant Serge Gette attended the grand opening.

I think that we have one of the most amazing, largest, inclusive playgrounds per capita in the prairies,” he said about the Swift Current park. “We were able to implement some of our most innovative, newest features, such as the We-Go-Swing and the We-Go-Round, and that’s really what’s going to help differentiate this playground.”