Work begins on accessible playground in Elora

Construction of a new accessible playground at South Ridge Park here began this week and will hopefully be finished by the end of the month, thanks to overwhelming community support for the project.

After an accessible park was finished in Fergus, Power of Play organizer Andy Speers approached the Centre Wellington parks and recreation committee about installing a second structure in Elora.

Speers said he expected the project to take five to 10 years to come to fruition – but instead it’s taken two.

He attributed the speedy timeline to the resounding success of the first playground, which attracts between 700 and 1,000 guests per day during the summer – many traveling from out of town.

“When we first started we never anticipated this response at all, but it really shows that people are willing to travel to a really nice park,” said Speers.

“We’ve met families that come down once a week from Arthur, from Mount Forest – we met a couple down here from Guelph … I definitely think people are willing to travel.”

Now Centre Wellington’s work to create inclusive community spaces is being used to inspire other municipalities across the province through a video made by the Ontario Parks Association during the construction in Stait Park last year.

“That was one of our goals too,” says Speers.

“To try and get that whole idea of accessibility out. Accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean wheelchairs … it’s also special needs, cognitive needs, visual needs and hearing needs.

“We’ve really tried to incorporate an aspect into each of the parks we design.”

Taking a walk through the design at Stait park, all of these needs are addressed through features such as braille boards and sign language diagrams. Speers says around 14 per cent of Canadians have some form of disability, with approximately 4,000 of those being residents of Centre Wellington.

“(If kids) sit there even for five minutes and learn a letter in sign language, they become aware, and when they learn about it, it helps with acceptance,” he says. “There’s a lot of kids that don’t understand differences.”

For Speers, the goal is complete inclusivity.

“If I got in a car accident and I lost the use of my legs I’d still want to play with my kids …”

“Out of all the parks that we had before this one, none of them were accessible, so anyone that had any sort of disability was left on the outside,” said Speers.

“A grandparent that has trouble with stairs can still play with their grandkids in a park like this because it’s completely ramped.”

The South Ridge location in Elora is ideal, he explained, because it is situated within an expanding subdivision alongside Sports fields and community trails.

Power of Play was responsible for 51 per cent of the total cost, with the Centre Wellington Rotary Club committing $50,000 to the project, Wrighthaven Homes Ltd. (which owns the adjacent subdivision) donating $25,000, Jefferson Elora Corp. donating $10,000 and Polycorp Ltd. donating $10,000.

“We’ve definitely had a lot more community involvement (for) this one just as far as people voicing their opinions about something like this going in,” said Speers.

“I was pleasantly surprised about how positive everyone took it.”

If the weather cooperates, organizers say the playground will be open to the public by the first week of August and a grand opening ceremony will be held in September.