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Chapel Hill to construct first inclusive playground

Chapel Hill’s children will soon have a new place to play. The Parks and Recreation Department is constructing its first fully inclusive playground.

Inclusive playgrounds are play areas meant to be used by children of all abilities that are also accessible to people who use additional accommodations. 

Constructing areas where children with disabilities can play has been a growing concern for the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreations Department, according to Bill Webster, assistant director of Parks and Recreation.

“All our parks meet minimum requirements for accessibility, but we recognized that it wasn’t enough,” Webster said. “The idea has been bouncing around for years.”

The inclusive park design seeks to go beyond typical accessibility standards and reach out to children with different mental abilities.

Beginning in November 2014, the town hired WithersRavenel, a consulting firm, to assess four locations in Chapel Hill where a fully accessible and inclusive park could be built. 

After assessment, the town decided to add to the existing Cedar Falls Park on Weaver Dairy Road.

Typically, inclusive parks take up more space and require additional accommodations for restrooms and parking, which made Cedar Falls the best location for the park.

“We looked at the whole range of issues, and it quickly rose to the top,” Webster said. “It already has parking and accessible bathrooms, as well as reasonable topography. It was the second cheapest, too.”

But Webster also noted that this project is many years away, will cost more than $1 million and will be constructed in phases.

Webster said the next phase, completing the design, should be done by the end of 2017.

“Parks like these are a little difficult for people to envision,” Webster said. 

He said the department wanted to do community outreach to determine what amenities residents wanted in the design.

Many members of the community are in favor of the town's plan to construct an inclusive park.

“The inclusive playground is a great example of how our community works together to provide for the needs of one subset of our populace — our children,” Jeff Nash, spokesperson for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said in an email.

Chapel Hill resident Sam Brooks said she also supports the park.

“I certainly support a park that’s going to be inclusive,” she said. “That’s what our community is all about.”

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