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'Boundless playground' goes together this week

A Parent-Teacher Organization has begun installing Medford's first completely wheelchair-accessible playground at Hoover Elementary School on Siskiyou Boulevard, the fruit of three years of planning and fundraising.

The $121,000 playground — with wheelchair ramps to all five levels of its main play structure, engineered wood-fiber bark and sensory activities for children with autism — will debut as soon as the start of school, Sept. 8.

The playground was designed to be a regional draw for the more than 1,600 children who are diagnosed with a disability in Jackson County.

"When we looked at how the PTO could help the school renovate its playground, one of the moms said, 'Don't forget about the disabled kids,' " said Pam Philips, head of the PTO playground campaign.

While there is a similar playground at Walker Elementary School in Ashland and at Garfield Elementary School in Corvallis, Hoover's new playground is the first in Oregon to be certified as a "Boundless Playground" by the nonprofit National Center for Boundless Playgrounds, out of Bloomfield, Conn.

All playgrounds are required by law to be accessible enough that a wheelchair can pull up to the play area. However, unlike the "Boundless Playground," the play equipment in most playgrounds is not wheelchair accessible.

Hoover's playground has padded-tile surfacing and bark dust over which a wheelchair can easily roll. Ramps on the main five-level play structure allow children in wheelchairs to roll up to the highest level along with other children.

The play structure contains sensory panels with different colors, textures and reflective materials, geared toward young children as well as children with autism.

"There are things you move and you twirl, some kind of hands-on components," Philips said.

The playground also includes two bucket-seat swings, six regular swings, three climbing walls, slides, monkey bars and a sidewalk with services that rock back and forth.

Philips said she thinks a playground that serves disabled students also will benefit non-disabled students beyond the playtime.

"I think it fosters acceptance of diversity and inclusiveness, and it's a huge social benefit for everyone," Philips said.

General contractor Dennis Bleser has begun installation of the playground, but the PTO will need volunteers Friday through Sunday to help, said Katie Tso, Hoover PTO member. Volunteers can call 608-6170.

A ribbon-cutting for the playground will be held in conjunction Hoover and Roosevelt Back To School Night Sept. 24.

Donations, grants and in-kind donations funded the project. The playground campaign received grants from CVS All Kids Can program, the West Family Foundation, Providence Medical Center and the Carpenter Foundation.

"I think one of the things this might do is change the way playgrounds are made, so that they are completely accessible," Philips said. "It can be more costly, but I think it's worth it."

On the Net: www.boundlessplaygrounds.org

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

General contractor Dennis Bleser demonstrates the wheelchair-friendly, soft surface that will cover the ground under the playground equipment. - Bob Pennell