Kilgore is now in a better position to offer fun and recreation to community members of all ability levels.

A two-year planning, fundraising and construction process was completed Wednesday as city officials, staff and a slew of volunteers of all ages placed the finishing touches on the brand-new Friendship Playground at Harris Street Park. Construction took place Monday through Wednesday this week. Surfacing work at the park will take place over the next few weeks before the amenity officially opens to the public.

Specially-tailored so everyone can enjoy its equipment without regard for any medical, physical or mental limitations, the playground development was spearheaded by Kilgore Chamber of Commerce’s E4 leadership participants in partnership with the City of Kilgore and the Special Abilities Family Fun Event (SAFFE) Day.

First proposed in 2017 by the E4 Leadership Class, the completion of the Friendship Playground marks a milestone for the city in its efforts to create an inclusive community for all.

“I ‘played’ on it yesterday and I think that everyone will be amazed at how inclusive it is,” said Kilgore Mayor Ronnie Spradlin.

“Regardless of a person’s condition or abilities- there is something for everyone. It has slides, musical instruments, games and something for every level of agility. The leadership class had an incredible vision that they made a reality.”

The new setup at Harris Street Park includes a wide variety of inclusive elements: from swings designed for individuals in wheelchairs to a fully-accessible two-story ‘treehouse’ structure. There are sensory toys as well, each piece of equipment specially picked to make Friendship Playground a welcoming place for anyone regardless of mobility restrictions or learning disabilities.

Fundraising for the playground began in 2018, with the E4 class raising $50,000 for the project and City of Kilgore contributing an additional $75,000.

Kilgore Public Library Director Stacey Cole helped to organize the project, fundraising and volunteers for the project.

“The volunteer build was finished yesterday but we do not anticipate being able to open the playground until late August,” Cole said Thursday.

She added the playground was unlike anything seen before in the city and its completion marks a new chapter in the drive to create a more inclusive community.

“Friendship Playground is quite different from any of our other playgrounds within the city as it has many features that allow for inclusive play. I am very excited to see all of the children and parents who may be unable to play on traditional playgrounds utilize Friendship Playground. It is another way we can promote inclusiveness, provide an amenity for our citizens and make all feel welcome.”

Cole said the playground was purchased from Game Time, who also gave a matching grant towards the equipment.

The group received feedback and direction over a two-year period, setting up a booth at Kilgore’s annual SAFFE Day event to learn more about what type of equipment and activities would be most useful at the playground.

“People don’t realize, it’s not only for the kids with mobility or medical or any kind of physical limitations, Cole said in 2018, “but also for the adults with limitations to be able to play alongside them.

“Our community doesn’t have anything like this, but SAFFE Day is already fueling a sense of togetherness for people of all abilities. That’s already brought awareness to our community, and this is a way to take that even further.

For more information and photos, visit the Friendship Playground Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/FriendshipPlaygroundAtHarrisStreetPark.

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