Modesto resident Sarah Bratton clearly remembers several years back when her young nephew, Tommy Loredo, was staying with her family for a few days. It was a beautiful late-spring morning, and her daughters and nephew wanted to go to a park.
“It broke my heart that he had to get out of his wheelchair and scoot his body around the park to keep up with the other kids,” she said Thursday.
Tommy, now 8, was born with arthrogryposis, or contractures that limit joint movement. He also was born with club feet, has had spinal surgery to correct severe scoliosis and has an undiagnosed muscular disorder. When not in a wheelchair, he uses a walker to get around.
Tommy’s condition has led his mother, Modesto-area resident Rachel Loredo, to spearhead an effort to bring to Modesto what’s called an inclusive playground on which disabled and non-disabled children could play side by side.
In early February, the city’s Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee recommended that the City Council approve an agreement with the Southern California-based nonprofit organization Shane’s Inspiration to design the playground, which would be built in Beyer Community Park. Shane’s Inspiration has offered to assist the city at no charge with development of a conceptual design.
He has such a big heart. ... Anyone can take a situation and make it negative; he’s the opposite of that. For him to have a park he can go to and be an equal would be so huge and life-changing.
Sarah Bratton, on nephew Tommy Loredo
The proposal is scheduled to go before the council for approval March 22. If approved, Shane’s Inspiration would be “involved up to 30 percent of construction documents, then we take over,” said Nathan Houx, the city’s parks project coordinator.
The agreement also has the Van Nuys-based nonprofit providing assistance with advertising materials for the community fundraising effort to buy the play equipment and build the playground.
The project would be done through Modesto’s Park Partners Program, in which city staff helps organize and manage a project to completion but members of the community secure donations of materials and money and provide volunteer labor to install the project.
“The idea is you raise funds beyond what’s needed to buy the equipment, so you have it there toward future maintenance,” Houx said.
As Loredo and other supporters of the playground proposal await the City Council’s decision, “we’re just brainstorming on ways to fundraise and what structures we’d want to bring to the playground,” Loredo said.
Through talks with Houx, she said, a tentative fundraising goal of $750,000 to $1 million has been set. The city report said fundraising is expected to take a year or two, meaning the playground could be done as early as summer 2017.
Twenty percent of our population has a disability of some type. It’s the largest minority group in the world and one that any of us can become part of at any time. When the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) created compliance for playgrounds, that was 1990. The bar was so low, it just means someone in a wheelchair can reach the playground.
Jill Asher, spokeswoman for the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto
Loredo and her husband, also named Tommy, own Full Throttle Motorcycle & Gun Shop in Salida, so one fundraising idea is a big motorcycle ride that would end at the shop, where there would be a barbecue, entertainment and more.
“I may be naive,” Rachel Loredo said, “but I believe the community will see the need for this, and it will catch fire; I believe people will back it.”
The playground would replace the worn and outdated one already in Beyer Community Park near the skate park. It would relocate the playground, however, to a spot near the park pavilion.
Parks planning and development staff already had identified Beyer as needing its equipment replaced. It also noted that current guidelines for park planning would put play equipment and the shade structure near each other. That way, adults having anything from company parties to family reunions beneath the pavilion can easily see kids on the playground.
Loredo stressed the “inclusive” nature of the playground, pointing out that it wouldn’t be for only special-needs children. For example, the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, which inspired her effort, includes a merry-go-round that wheelchairs roll onto, then have a gate close behind them. Able-bodied children climb on and ride alongside, Loredo said.
Another feature at that park is a roller slide that hugs a slope so there’s no drop should a child go off the side. Loredo envisions such a slide built into the hill that exists where the playground would go at Beyer Park. Rings built into the hillside would enable special-needs children to climb up to the slide.
I can’t wait to get into the design portion of the process to ask the community what they’d like to see in the playground.
Rachel Loredo, inclusive playground organizer
“Swings at the playground will be built to carry the weight of a full-grown man because there are older children who have the mental capacity of a 5-year-old. And the swinging motion is good for children with autism – it’s a soothing motion,” Loredo said. She noted the playground would be inclusive even for disabled parents who currently aren’t able to play with their children at typical playgrounds.
The playground would incorporate climbing structures because, again, it’s meant to be for all children. And as is common at many playgrounds, ground-level panels on play structures would offer activities such as rotating x’s and o’s to play tic-tac-toe.
The surface among play equipment would be a spongy rubber rather than sand or bark, Loredo said. Because that surface is expensive, it would be supplemented by areas of concrete and perhaps artificial turf.
“I believe this will be the coolest park in Modesto when it’s done,” Loredo said. “And not just Modesto but for surrounding areas like Ceres and Riverbank. And because they’re building the Miracle League field (for children with disabilities), Modesto will be drawing families from great distances. They’ll be able to play baseball and stick around to make a day of it.”
To see the agenda of the Feb. 8 Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee and the materials regarding the proposed agreement with Shane’s Inspiration, go to http://bit.ly/1SqVyH1.