Fort Smith parks department launches inclusive playground improvements

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 1,019 views 

Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert said work has begun on a renovation at Fort Smith Park Playground to make the park more inclusive for special needs children — a capital improvement plan (CIP) project in the 2018 budget.

Reinert and Sara Deuster, the department’s deputy director, rolled out the plans in a Wednesday (Jan. 10) meeting of the Fort Smith Parks Commission from Creekmore Community Center.

Manufacturers Gametime and Opportunity House have submitted matching designs for the playground equipment. The city also will include an Aeroglider to encourage cooperation and teamwork for children of all ages and abilities. The glider will feature a stepping platform on both ends and a full five-foot wheelchair turning radius. It will boast enough room to seat two wheelchair users side-by-side with couches on each end to accommodate children and adults. Lastly, the onboard table will feature comfort grip hand-holds.

Additional features of the new Fort Smith Park Playground will include an “Oodle Swing,” which is a twist on the traditional swing allowing both cooperative and multidirectional use, and an “Expression Swing,” which enables adults and children to swing together with a bucket seat for kids under five facing an adult-sized seat.

Exact totals will not be available until the city selects a vendor, but Deuster said it would not exceed the $200,000 in CIP money set aside for the project. Landplan Consultants, who previously worked on Imani and Stagecoach Parks, are currently in the project’s surveying stages, and the city has launched a required approval process with the Corps of Engineers.

Fort Smith Park Playground is expected to finish in the fall of 2018. Existing playground equipment will be “disposed of,” meaning metal would likely be sold as scrap and plastic parts would be recycled.

“We won’t just sit it out on the landfill,” Reinert said, adding the typical lifespan of playground equipment is around 20 years and disposal is the city’s only option since manufacturers stop making replacement parts at a certain point and keeping or donating the equipment as it is could be a safety hazard.

The department has earmarked $100,000 for such inclusion improvements at other parks throughout the city starting in 2019.

Also on Wednesday, the department received a $2,500 donation from Welcome Neighbors of Greater Fort Smith for the purpose of purchasing and installing a wheelchair-accessible swing at Carol Ann Cross Park. The nonprofit describes itself as a “social/service organization” for women new to the area or country.

As for the remainder of the 2018 CIP, the department budgeted $2.489 million in spending from the voter-approved 1/8-cent sales tax, which it estimates will total $2.876 million. The year’s largest project will be a bike/skate park project downtown near the site of the United States Marshals Museum. The park is expected to cost just north of $1.1 million with the city’s share being $500,000 and the remainder coming from private funds.