The first all-access playground in Washington County is more than a hand-drawn sketch or an ambitious idea tossed around at Rotary Club meetings.
“This isn’t a dream, this is something we’re doing,” said Mike Mefford, co-chairman of the boundless playground project at Rotary Park, 1001 N. Broadway St. “The club is 100 percent committed to making this happen.”
The plans for a 40,000-square-foot nature-themed playground with a splash pad comes with a steep price tag of $700,000. The numbers haven’t deterred the club from going after its goal, which also includes revamping the parking lot and installing a round-about to make the drop-off and pick-up process a bit easier for wheelchair users.
Mefford says the entire area will be as handicap accessible as possible, including the curbing and access to public bathrooms and Harris Pavilion.
The boundless playground will encompass the grassy area in front of the pavilion and will utilize a nature theme that is supposed to mesh well within the serene setting at Rotary Park.
There will be two major play areas, one for ages 2-5 and another for 5-12. Mefford says the centerpieces of the playground will look like trees and there will be plenty of seating scattered throughout the area so parents can keep a watchful eye on their little ones.
A “rain tree” will be the main feature of the splash pad, which became a much smaller portion of the project in comparison to original plans. The Rotary Club decided to incorporate mostly playground equipment so the park could be used more frequently throughout the year.
It will be the first splash pad in the county and will provide a place for wheelchair users to enjoy a pool-like setting during the summer months.
The club began the playground planning process in 2010 with the goal of addressing the needs of the 2,000 children enrolled in special needs classes within Washington County, Mefford said.
“Not only did we want a new playground for our community, but we wanted one that would foster development for children with disabilities,” Mefford said. “I want to see our community made better. If we have a deficiency in our playground system that doesn’t allow some children to play, they need an advocate. If we have the means through our club to make that happen, then that’s all the motivation I need.”
Addressing each detail needed in piecing together such a large project has been a time consuming endeavor for the Rotary Club. Before the plans for the project could be completed, the play equipment had to be approved by Boundless Playground Inc. Mefford said the Rotary Club worked hard to meet their specifications, which is one of the reasons the playground is so costly.
The boundless playground equipment has an estimated cost of $412,806 and the construction costs will be another $319,011. About half the funding for the project has come from in-kind donations, said Shelley Brouillette, co-chairwoman of the boundless playground project. If they count on the in-kind donations, plus the $130,000 that has already been collected through various fundraising efforts, Brouillette says the club still needs about $250,000.
“If we get the cash in hand, we’ve got the green light,” she said.
With the success of Darrell’s Dream boundless playground at Warriors’ Path State Park in Kingsport, the Rotary Club hasn’t had a difficult time convincing others of the need for a similar playground in Washington County.
“We do see other cities doing boundless playgrounds,” Mefford said. “I think it is a sign of the times, that just a few years ago it seemed it was acceptable to solely go on ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, where it seemed acceptable that a child or adult can be pushed through a bed of mulch to play.
“Northeast Tennessee would be in the elite category by having two (boundless playgrounds) in the same region. It would be very special for our community.”
The project has passed through all the necessary municipal agencies and has gained the support of the local school systems, Mefford said. In order to make the boundless playground a reality, the club needs support from the community.
“We’re getting so close, but we’re so far away,” Brouillette said. “We want to continue keeping the community fired up about this.”
To raise money for the project, the Johnson City Rotary Club is hosting a brick program that gives people the opportunity to have names engraved in the stone that will be a part of the boundless playground. They will also partner with Chick-fil-A during the Blue Plum Festival in June to raise funds.
For more information about the brick program or to make a donation, call 943-1649 or visit www.jcrotary.com.