On Monday afternoon, the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department approved an application for a $250,000 Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant to go toward the construction of a “boundless playground” in Rotary Park.
The decision came four days after the proposal, and the project itself, were approved by the City Commission during its regular meeting. If the grant is approved by the state, $445,815 of local money will be required to both match the grant and work toward the completion of the estimated $695,815 project.
Much of the proposal was authored by First Tennessee Development District Community Development Coordinator Lance Lowery. While FTDD data shows that Rotary Park, 1001 N. Broadway St., is already the city’s most-visited park, Lowery said the addition of a boundless playground would help serve a portion of the population that can, at times, find playtime challenging.
“The boundless playground is an all-access playground that allows children with physical and mental disabilities to have an interactive and accessible play experience,” he said.
Members of the City Commission, Rotary Club of Johnson City and FTDD have been working to make the project a reality since 2011. The city had previously applied for the grant in 2012, but Rotary Club past-president Mike Mefford said that proposal fell short of state requirements.
“It (was) a point-based application, and we were deducted points for a few issues,” Mefford said. “We feel like if we could have erased that back in 2012, we would have been funded.”
Since that time, Mefford said, those issues have been addressed, and he is confident the grant will be approved this year.
“Those issues have been rectified,” Mefford said. “I feel like, mathematically, we should be in good shape.”
While the proposal was altered to meet state standards, Mefford said, during that time, incremental changes were made to the project itself.
“It’s evolved. I don’t know if we could count the variations of what has changed,” Mefford said. “I wouldn’t say it has gone through too many forms, (but) it has grown in scope, and has been dictated by the space available in the park.”
The concept of a boundless playground is not unfamiliar to the Tri-Cities; Warrior’s Path State Park in Kingsport boasts one complete with a “Braille Trail” that tells the story of Aslan, the lion from C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” series.
While the Johnson City boundless playground may not feature a trip through Narnia, Lowery said it would offer park-goers another recreational outlet — a splash pad.
“It’s kind of an interactive water-play area,” Lowery said. “A lot of communities use them as an alternative to swimming pools. You basically have a concrete-type pad with multiple water features, such as water cannons, water buckets, (and) tunnels with arches of water you can crawl through. There will be sensors that activate water jets when somebody walks past them.”
During Monday’s meeting, Lowery said state funding could be approved by as soon as August. From then, however, he added that it would still take some time before construction on the project could begin.
“After they announce this, to get a contract from the state, you’re probably looking at another several months,” Lowery said. “It’s a long process before construction can start.”