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The work behind the play: Awesome Spot playground ideas unveiled

"Awesome" playground ideas

Rough design for inclusive playground planned for Beyer Community Park is discussed at downtown Modesto meeting. Deke Farrow/jfarrow@modbee.com
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Rough design for inclusive playground planned for Beyer Community Park is discussed at downtown Modesto meeting. Deke Farrow/jfarrow@modbee.com

The community last week got its first look at the rough plan for The Awesome Spot inclusive playground planned for Beyer Community Park. The audience at a downtown meeting also was introduced to its mascot, Homer the Rainbow Rhino.

The Rainbow Rhino is the central character in a children’s book by the same name, written by Fox Carlton Hughes, an author, artist and musician who illustrated books for Disney and made models for the “Gumby” show. Hughes, who died in January 2015, was the grandfather of Rachel Loredo, the Modesto-area mom who’s helping spearhead The Awesome Spot project.

Loredo’s son, Tommy, was born with arthrogryposis, or contractures that limit joint movement. He sometimes uses a wheelchair, sometimes a walker.

The Awesome Spot playground will be enclosed by a 4- to 5-foot-high fence and have two entrances. Some children with autism have a tendency to bolt, so the fence should help keep them from going far before parents can get to them.

In April 2015, the Loredo family went to the opening of an inclusive playground in Palo Alto called the Magical Bridge. Inspired to create such a place here, where children with disabilities can play side by side with able-bodied peers, and disabled parents can join their kids, Rachel Loredo approached the city of Modesto.

She, city staff members and O’Dell Engineering of Modesto now are working with the Southern California-based nonprofit organization Shane’s Inspiration, which is creating the conceptual design for The Awesome Spot at no charge.

The rough design unveiled Wednesday was the result of a community meeting held in May; with additional input gained this week it will be sent to Shane’s for fine-tuning, Loredo said.

Chad Kennedy, an associate landscape architect with O’Dell, led Wednesday’s audience through a virtual tour of the playground, showing images of the types of equipment likely to be installed on the nearly 2 acres.

Based on votes cast at the May meeting, the theme chosen for the playground is nature.

Rachel Loredo said she hopes The Awesome Spot maintenance will become a Love Modesto project and, like Love Modesto, will be an idea that spreads to other communities.

A statue of the Rainbow Rhino will welcome visitors at the north entrance to the playground, off Sylvan Meadows Drive. At the center of the playground likely will be a play structure and gathering spot that mimics a tree.

Throughout the playground, Kennedy said, will be equipment pieces for active play and to promote creative play and provide a range of sensory stimulation shown to benefit child development.

Motion is a key developmental need for children, he said, but “to take a child with a disability and put him in an environment with children who have full abilities and to have that same motion and experience is very difficult” in a traditional playground. One piece of play equipment, which may be given a safari car design, will be accessible by wheelchair and walker, and will allow kids to start a rocking motion by rolling, running, walking or pushing back and forth.

A sensory space in the playground likely will have features such as drums that are tuned so they’re not just noisemakers but create a pleasant sound, Kennedy said, and a pivoting rain stick, which will allow kids to enjoy the sound but also the feel of the tumbling beads inside. There may be surfaces of different textures for children to feel.

Peggy Hughes has about 50 copies of her husband’s “The Rainbow Rhino” book and said she hopes to auction them to raise money toward The Awesome Spot and to publish additional copies of the book that could be given to children whose families can’t afford to purchase them.

The part of the playground for kids ages 2 to 5 will have a spot for dramatic play, “where children can use their creativity and not be prescribed to play in a certain fashion,” Kennedy said. “They can crawl into spaces and pretend they’re a caterpillar on a leaf.”

A play feature that mimics a hollow log offers a cozy, quiet place for children who may feel sensory overload to recoup “until they’re ready to jump back in.”

Other playground features will let children safely experience elevation variations to help them develop balance. Climbing structures may range from small mock boulders and logs to a more challenging flexible spider web.

Loredo said she anticipates the final design will be done by the end of August. On Sept. 8, she expects to have a fundraising kickoff at The Century to unveil it and offer sponsorship packets. She, Kennedy and city staffers said they expect a range of sponsorship opportunities will be available. Perhaps people will be able to “buy” engraved fence slats or posts. There could be plaques acknowledging sponsors of benches or play structures.

Modesto City Council member Jenny Kenoyer, who attended with fellow council members Tony Madrigal and Doug Ridenour, said she loved what she saw Wednesday and believes the community will get behind The Awesome Spot the way it did the Miracle League.

Modesto Rotary Club board member Ridge Sutter commented at the meeting, “What you have is great. You’re on the right track.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

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