Dozens turn out to share ideas on Awesome Spot playground in Modesto

Meeting on "Awesome" Modesto playground

Residents give input on inclusive playground at Beyer Park for disabled and able-bodied kids alike. Deke Farrow/
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Residents give input on inclusive playground at Beyer Park for disabled and able-bodied kids alike. Deke Farrow/

Modesto parents Katharine and Mike Reynolds would love to be able to see their daughter and son share the fun of a playground. That’s what brought them to a community meeting on Wednesday night for The Awesome Spot playground planned for Beyer Community Park in north Modesto.

Daughter Kylie, 5, is able-bodied and “developing typically,” Katharine Reynolds said, while little brother Kase, 3, has a rare genetic condition, a 5q14.3 deletion, and is in a wheelchair. “It would be really fun for them to play together and for him not to have to lie on a blanket on the side,” the kids’ mother said. “… She’d love to push him in a swing.”

That side-by-side play between disabled and able-bodied children is the whole point of an “inclusive playground,” as places like The Awesome Spot are called. Modesto-area parent Rachel Loredo, who brought the proposal to the city and is helping lead the effort to get the playground designed, funded and built, also has a disabled son, Tommy, and able-bodied daughter, Annalise.

Tommy was born with arthrogryposis, or contractures that limit joint movement. He uses a walker, but on Wednesday night demonstrated – with a broad smile – how well he’s doing at walking on his own.

Loredo was inspired by an inclusive playground in Palo Alto called the Magical Bridge. She and city staff are working with the Southern California-based nonprofit organization Shane’s Inspiration, which has agreed to create a conceptual design for The Awesome Spot at no charge.

Wednesday’s meeting at The Century event center on 10th Street was held to get input on what parents, children and other residents would like to see at the park. A few dozen people attended.

O’Dell Engineering of Modesto is donating land-survey services for the park, and Chad Kennedy, an associate landscape architect with the firm, helped lead the meeting. Kennedy once worked for the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Using an online polling site, Kennedy asked those at the meeting to pull out their smartphones to give some immediate input on what will be important to them at the playground. Asked to choose from a list of items, the audience said the top four considerations are site safety, shade, restrooms and available parking.

He also asked for theme suggestions, and among the many suggested were superheroes, nature, agriculture, fairy tale, Old West, carnival, jungle and toys.

Parking is one of the reasons Beyer Park was selected for the new playground, said Nathan Houx, the city’s acting parks planning and development manager. “We expect this will attract more people than a standard playground, so we needed a community park with adequate parking.”

He also noted that The Awesome Spot will not be built where the park’s current playground is, but rather closer to the pavilion and baseball field. “The playground now is close to the skate park, and the location doesn’t really work very well with how the park has evolved over time,” Houx said.

After taking a “self-guided tour of play” – a series of panels that explained such concepts as internal sensation and physical, social and cognitive play – attendees also were asked to post comments using sticky notes on a “feedback board.”

Notes included: “different balancing structures,” “different textures on building structures,” “bike/wheelchair track,” “wheelchair swings” and “auditory for visually impaired would be important!”

Loredo posted on The Awesome Spot’s Facebook page, “We are leaving the forum for design ideas open until Sunday evening so that anyone who was unable to make it tonight that still would like to have input in the design can do so. Please feel free to private message us, or post on our page with any ideas you may have!”

Kase Reynolds’ father, Mike, said he’s “definitely excited” about the park, especially given how quickly the plans seem to be progressing.

“You always hope for things like that in your town,” he said. “As special-needs parents, you have to travel to things, because they’re rare. To have something that our daughter can play in at the same time as our son, to have that interaction, is exciting.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327