“Are you ready to build our first inclusive playground?” Stacey Cole asks. “I’m very ready. I’ve been ready since 2018.”

It’s time to move forward on Friendship Playground at Harris Street Park, the Kilgore Public Library director told Kilgore City council members Tuesday.

Speaking on behalf of the E4 Leadership class, Cole noted the effort to build an all-abilities-welcome play area has more than $134,000 in-hand (with more potentially on the way) to cover a $127,000 quote from GameTime.  She debuted initial blueprints for the site at the council’s regular meeting this week at City Hall, and announced some additional good news.

“They are able to match just over $72,000 in funds,” Cole said. “That allows us to get more bang for our buck.

Likewise, “For part of this process, we are going to be implementing a community-build. That’s also going to help keep costs down.”

From a wish-list perspective, the design for Friendship Playground includes a wide range of inclusive features that take all ability levels and limitations into consideration.

For example, Cole said, there are two types of swings – one tailored for users with limited trunk strength, another that permits users to face each other, such as a parent and child using the equipment together. ADA-compatability, too, is an essential feature of the equipment.

“Every platform that you see, these ramps, all of those are accessible for those that have mobility issues or any other kind of limitations. There’s multiple ways for them to get on the feature and get off the feature,” she noted. Meanwhile, “We have features for those that have sensory issues that may want to go to a quieter place.” At the same time, “We have music features – that was one thing that we really wanted.

“We were pretty excited about this, that it provides essentially everything that we were looking for and it fits within the confines of the money that we have raised to date?”

The chamber’s E4 program (formerly Leadership Kilgore) aims to give local professionals skills to Embark, Enlighten, Empower and Engage. Collaborating with the SAFFE Day (the Special Abilities Family Fun Event) nonprofit, Friendship Playground was the inaugural E4 team’s chosen venture for the community.

A variety of fundraising efforts collected about $59,200, and council members injected an additional $75,000 into the project budget, also agreeing to take over the initiative as a city project.

“The city is the contractor,” Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck noted, and he recommended council members approve an additional $3,500 for a GameTime project manager to come lead the actual construction of the playground at Harris Street Park. “While the strong backs and the hardworking hands are provided by the community, the expertise in doing the project itself is provided by this specific consultant who does that specific thing for a living.

Notably, “We’ve seen others in the community and others in other communities struggle to get people to come out for community builds. That’s especially challenging when you have a community that has our demographics – it’s a lot of young people that are working in or out of town, it’s a lot of movement, everybody has kids.”

So, Selleck said, the plan for Friendship Playground is a little different.

“We’re actually going to ask Kilgore employers to give us their employees for a day. We’re going to ask them to give us someone that wants to come dig a post-hole for a day, someone who wants to come and wrench on the nuts and bolts of the pieces,” he said. “If we can’t get a commitment that way, we’ll shift it to a Saturday. I think we’ll have a lot more volunteers if we can ask local employers, even if it’s just four hours for an employee to come out.”

Those details will be forthcoming, Cole added, once dates and times and additional plans can be refined.

“We’re ready to get started and move forward,” she concluded. “It sounds like a daunting task, but I think we can get it done.”

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