Special needs children across the county will soon have the freedom to go down a slide and cross the monkey bars, activities that many take for granted, when the construction of four playgrounds is complete later this school year.
Thursday afternoon, the Escambia County Board of Education approved a $249,772 bid to Kidz Zone for construction of four special needs playgrounds at schools countywide including Rachel Patterson, A.C. Moore, Flomaton and W.S. Neal elementary schools.
“The majority of our playgrounds are not (Americans Disabilities Act) compliant,” Suzanne Barnett, special education coordinator for Escambia County School System, said. “Students that have physical limitations, in wheelchairs or use walkers cannot readily access or play on the playgrounds independently.”
The money for the project was made available through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, which are based on the population of special needs children in each county. There are currently 538 special needs children in Escambia County that meet IDA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) criteria, Barnett said.
As part of standards set forth by the AARA, the project chosen by school systems had into include “innovative” and “instructional” materials for special needs children.
“These are fully accessible playgrounds,” Barnett said. “Part of instruction is socializing with other children and learning how to play and interact with other children.”
The playgrounds are also considered a “green projects,” Barnett said. All the materials used in the construction of the playgrounds are recycled materials mostly milk cartons. The playgrounds are also safe for the children with no exposed metal that resists heat and materials that do not splinter. The playgrounds will also be constructed on poured in place safety surfaces made out of chipped rubber, which have give in them in case of falls.
Barnett said that the new playgrounds would afford the students in the county with special needs endless opportunities.
“They will have the opportunity to access a playground with no limit or boundaries,” she said. “All students whether they are able to walk or not will be able to maneuver the safety zone due to the solid surfacing. Those same children will also have the freedom to move about the play structure without assistance, which many have never experienced before.”
The project, which has been eight months in the making, is under a 120-day contract, but Barnett said Kidz Zone officials said it would take 6-8 weeks to construct all four projects, which will be built simultaneously. She added that it was a relief that the project will finally become a reality.
“It feels wonderful. I’m excited,” Barnett said. “The teachers are excited and the principals are excited.”
The playgrounds at Rachel Patterson and W.S. Neal Elementary will allow 54-58 children to play at the same time, the one at A.C. Moore will allow 44-48 children and the one at Flomaton has the largest playing capacity allowing 56-60 children to play.