Construction of an inclusive playground is scheduled to begin this week next to the Lake Saracen Splash Park after earlier delays related to funding. Joy Blankenship is the chairman of the Lake Saracen Project Association, which is overseeing amenities around the project. She is also executive director of Pine Bluff Downtown Development, which is a pass-through organization for some of the money.
“The delay was caused by the cost was more than the funding that we had,” Blankenship said. “We had to scale back. Not that the size will be any different, we had to make it less pieces of equipment and make sure the padding was the best for children with special needs. That was more important to us than the number of pieces of equipment. … Anything that happens here is good for downtown.”
The playground will feature swings, a tree house, tree stumps, hollow logs, and mobile activities to help children improve their dexterity.
The projected cost to build the playground is $300,000, Blankenship said. The money is coming from a $150,000 grant from the Arkansas Blue and You Foundation, a $25,000 grant from the Simmons First Foundation, and a $150,000 grant that then-director of the Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department April Layher secured from the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department.
The poured-in-place safety surfacing will cost about $77,000, which is more expensive than what officials originally anticipated, Blankenship said.
Construction company Game Time Cunningham Recreation of Charlotte, North Carolina, will build the playground. The project did not require the issuance of a request for proposals seeking companies to issue bids, Blankenship said.
“The only reason we did not bid it to people who are around here is because we did not have to because of the grant part of it,” Blankenship said. “There are very few people in the nation and nobody in Arkansas who builds these special playgrounds.”
Trudy Redus, interim director of the Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department, said a Game Time representative will be in Pine Bluff at 11 a.m. Wednesday to do a ground-breaking of the playground.
The Blue and You Foundation promotes healthy activities for Arkansas residents by awarding grants that fulfill its mission. The playground will have a surface that will be compatible with wheelchairs and it will be open every day of the year. It will feature equipment that assists children in relation to their sensory skills and motor skills.
“There will be an auditory area where there will be things for children who enjoy hearing music,” Blankenship said. “How great because children will learn more from each other. The wonder of children is they are so natural and they all get along. We wish that grown-ups would sometimes be as nice as children are to other children.”
The playground will be surrounded by a fence and will include spaces for additional equipment to be added later.
“We have invited people who work with children with special needs from Jenkins Memorial to work with us and other people who work with adults,” Blankenship said. “It has been a whole committee work of people, not just the Lake Saracen Project Association. And we are going to put benches out for grandparents like me to sit and watch their grandchildren.”
The playground will be next to the Lake Saracen Splash Park, which opened in May 2015 and features 78 programmable water jets that spray from the ground into the air. The Splash Park is open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend and features a wheelchair-accessible changing area and bathrooms.
Blankenship remembered talking with Simmons Foundation Chairman Tommy May at the May 2015 ceremony about building an inclusive playground. That conversation sparked this project, she said.