By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

City hoping to rally community to park project

Parks and Recreation Director Jay Pearson sounded a note of caution, however, saying the city is in the very early stages of determining what such a playground might entail, where it might be created and how it might be funded.

The seed was planted about six months ago, when the community’s noon Kiwanis Club created a committee to consider ways to make a difference with a $33,000 fund the club had established.

“A lot of times, we give to organizations and fund some expenses, or whatever, that aren’t ongoing,” said spokesman Craig Bodmer. “They help for maybe a while, but not for a long time. We had $33,000, so we thought, ‘Let’s try to build something permanent for our community.’”

During the course of its work, the committee invited several community leaders to present suggestions, Pearson among them.

Pearson offered several ideas, but the one that captured the committee’s imagination involved development of a barrier-free playground where the normally abled and disabled could enjoy the facilities together.

“All of the ideas were good, but this one was one we really thought was a great thing to do,” Bodmer recalled.

“You know, Kiwanis is about children primarily. We thought, ‘This really serves the children of the community well.’”

The idea is to use the Kiwanis fund as seed money, perhaps  as the local match for a state grant.

Pearson and the club drew inspiration from a handicapped-accessible facility called Harper’s Playground, developed at Portland’s Arbor Lodge Park. It was named for a girl, now 8, whose parents launched the project.

Harper Rose, daughter of April and Cody Goldberg, suffers from Emanuel Syndrome, a rare disorder that causes a variety of physical disabilities. She uses a walker.

Her parents wanted her, and other children with disabilities, to be able to enjoy a wider array of playground equipment.

The couple worked with the Portland Parks Department, with playground designers and manufacturers, and with friends and relatives, to design, fund and build the playground. It opened in November, and Pearson attended the ceremony.

“It’s not extremely large, but it’s a beginning,” Pearson said. “They are still seeking donations for certain components, and they have saved space in the design for them.”

One idea is to seek corporate or institutional sponsors for particular pieces of equipment. Another is to rely on volunteer labor from the community whenever possible.

Bodmer said only a handful of such playgrounds have been developed around the country and each is unique. He said there is no standard design or formula, no standard set of equipment.

Features of other parks include swings that can accommodate wheelchairs, wheelchair ramps leading to second-story towers, slides specifically designed for handicapped use and musical features like a xylophone that can be played by a child sitting in a wheelchair.

Because the project promises to be expensive, Pearson is cautious. “We don’t want to get hopes up that exceed our ability to follow through,” he said.

His own hopes, however, refuse to be quashed; he said he believes it’s just the kind of project the entire community of McMinnville might rally around and see through to completion.

“Oftentimes, great things happen when you take a leap of faith forward, and that’s kind of what we’re doing here,” he said. The Kiwanis donation provides a cornerstone as a starting point, and the club has said it will help with raising additional funds and assisting in any way with both the planning and implementation.

At its noon luncheon meeting on Thursday, March 14, the club is scheduled to hear Goldberg described the process that led to creation of Harper’s Playground.

The club meets at noon at the McMinnville Community Center, 600 N.E. Evans St., for a hot buffet lunch followed by a program.

Interested members of the public are invited to attend the March 14 presentation at the discounted price of $10, but reservations need to be made in advance. Reservations may be made through Friday, March 8, by contacting Club President Stan Sherman at 503-550-3105 or

After the opening club session with Goldberg, Pearson envisions scheduling a series of public meetings. He is especially eager to hear from parents of children who might use such a playground, so their ideas and desires can be incorporated, along with their assistance.

McMinnville already tries to go beyond the minimum requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act when it designs new playgrounds, Pearson said. As a result, all of them have some elements that children with disabilities can use.

However, the playgrounds feature other elements they might not be able to access, such as towers and slides. The idea of a barrier-free playground is to make all such elements accessible and usable.

That might involve a variety of features, Pearson said, including ramps and ground coverings that won’t impede wheelchairs. “Barrier-free would mean that anyone could walk into that space, or wheel into it, or be helped into it, without having something impede their ability to play, or experience that space,” he said.

But Pearson said it’s the children, and their parents, who will really know what would make a difference to them.

“We can’t presume to know what experiences are not available to local residents,” he said. “We’d like to hear from them.”


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