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Modesto makes a big buy-in to inclusive Awesome Spot Playground planned for Beyer Park

Conceptual illustration for The Awesome Spot inclusive playground to be constructed at Beyer Community Park in north Modesto.
Conceptual illustration for The Awesome Spot inclusive playground to be constructed at Beyer Community Park in north Modesto.

The Modesto mom behind the effort to build a so-called inclusive playground at Beyer Community Park said she feels “a renewed sense of excitement” since winning strong financial backing from the city and Stanislaus County.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the City Council approved a $92,000 contribution from the general fund toward the $2.5 million playground project. It also OK’d a $288,000 in-kind contribution, including project administration, a potable water connection, a storm drain line, purchase and installation of concrete picnic tables, landscape maintenance, and other materials and services.

The city’s contributions come on the heels of a $250,000 contribution from Stanislaus County, said O’Dell Engineering landscape architect Chad Kennedy, one of those spearheading The Awesome Spot project with Rachel Loredo, whose son Tommy’s physical limitations led her to work to build a playground on which disabled and nondisabled children can play side by side.

Typical of an inclusive playground are wheelchair-accessible surfaces (no sand or drop-offs) and equipment pieces, like a merry-go-round that can be rolled onto. A sliding board would hug a gentle hillside so that if a child loses his or her balance, there’s no falling off the side. The Loredo family was inspired by a visit to the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto.

The overarching theme of the nearly 2-acre Awesome Spot is nature, which will be reflected in three play areas: Swamp Cruise, Rain Forest Excursion and Savanna Safari. The construction plan is between 80 and 90 percent done, Kennedy said, and should be ready for another review by the city in March.

The effort remains heavily in the fundraising stages, he and Loredo said. Between pledges, contributions and in-kind donations, the playground is 49 percent funded, Kennedy said. For example, the Stanislaus Senior Softball Association recently kicked in $15,000. Other equipment sponsors include the Modesto Rotary Club, the Sunset Lions Club, Mocse Credit Union, the Carlos Vieira Foundation, the Modesto Irrigation District and Sutter Health.

What’s really needed are the big-ticket naming sponsors. Those include the playground name sponsor, at $500,000; Rain Forest Excursion sponsor, $250,000; Savanna Safari sponsor, $200,000; and Swamp Cruise sponsor, $150,000.

See The Awesome Spot sponsorship packet

There are organizations that have expressed interest in being naming sponsors — meaning they get prominent signage at the playground — but they’ve been waiting to see what kind of commitment local government has to the project, Loredo said. “This (the buy-in by the city and county) was the last piece we needed to go out and be confident when seeking large donors.”

Beyond donors, the effort needs volunteer help and participants/attendees at planned fundraising events, Loredo said. Among them are the ongoing recycling efforts it does in partnership with O’Brien’s Markets. They’re called O’B Green. Another fundraiser is an 1800s Western Mystery Dinner coming March 9 at The Century event center downtown. A comedy night at the Peterson Event Center on April 26 also is in the works.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Loredo’s son, Tommy, who was born with arthrogryposis, or contractures that limit joint movement, was among those to address the council. “He’s turned into quite the little advocate, and it warms my heart as a mom,” she said. “He realizes how important this will be for hundreds of families, thousands of people.”

Thinking back on her own family’s delight at visiting The Magical Bridge, she added, “I’m imagining the family that comes from Stockton or Sacramento,” either to visit The Awesome Spot or perhaps just happen upon it.

To learn more about inclusive playground effort, and to donate or get involved, visit www.theawesomespotplayground.com or www.facebook.com/TheAwesomeSpotPlayground.

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Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.
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