Keyword Site Search

CLEMYJONTRI Focuses on Abilities

by G. E. Fielder, RLA, ASLA, AICP, CPSI, G. E. Fielder & Associates, Chartered Columbia, Md.
and Stephen Kelly, editor

The Movin' and Groovin' area at CLEMYJONRI Playground in McLean, Va. is all about transportation, designed with themed equipment such as a racetrack, motorcycles, planes and trains. Wheel chairs and bikes can take to the "road" or the colorful drag strip. A board contains fun and serious transportation facts: When was the first flight? How fast can a turtle run? The answer to the second question: very slow. Many of the elements are original designs.
Cost of Wisconsin
Playworld Came America
Playworld Came America

CLEMYJONTRI was designed to blur the line between physically able and physically challenged children, thus giving the physically challenged child the ability to succeed. The playground opened in October 2006; within the first 25 days, nearly 12,000 kids and parents visited. The playground now hosts about 200,000 visitors a year.


A colorful 132-foot-long drag strip lets kids in wheelchairs race side by side. Signage explains it would take a cheetah only 1.2 seconds to cover the distance (@ 71 mph) and 3.6 seconds for a rabbit (@ 25 mph). "You run the drag strip in?" asks the sign. "Is that with or without a cheetah chasing you?"


The Donor: Mrs. Adele Lebowitz
CLEMYJONTRI has become part of the fabric of the Washington, D.C. area. The park is the dream of Mrs. Adele Lebowitz, who generously donated the 18-acre property for the park. She had a vision for the playground and park. She wanted a playground that inspired children to use their imagination, to challenge them to learn and, of course, just to have fun.

Editor’s note: Adele Lebowitz is the widow of Mortimer Lebowitz, who founded the Morton’s department store chain in the Washington, D.C. area in 1933. In the 1930s and 40s, segregation was very much a part of D.C. Mr. Lebowitz was one of the first to fully integrate his stores, customers and staff. Mrs. Lebowitz and her husband sponsored a local children’s television program in the 1950s, The Pick Temple Show.


The rainbow sign on the playground includes the light spectrum and its mnemonic acronym, plus how to spell the colors in American Sign Language. The rainbow sign is another original design element.

What’s that Name?
The name of the playground, CLEMYJONTRI (Clem-mee-JOHN-tree), is an amalgam of the names of the Lebowitz children: Carolyn, Emily, John and Katrina. Mrs. Lebowitz stipulated the park incorporate a playground for disabled children, a picnic shelter and a carousel. The 18.5-acre park located 11.5 miles from D.C. in McLean, Va. includes a two-acre playground, a carousel, a picnic shelter and restrooms. Fairfax County Park Authority managed the design team and construction. It also manages the park and playground.

The American with Disabilities Act, which marked its 20th anniversary in July 2010, has opened many doors by establishing accessibility standards. However, many children and adults fall outside these standards. Parents’ expectations go beyond ADA; for them, it is quality of life. CLEMYJONTRI had the chance to be more than ADA compliant, it had the chance to level the playing field for all children of all abilities and be truly inclusionary for all levels of development and ability.


The Schoolhouse picks up the color theme of the Rainbow Room and presents the primary and secondary colors in a color wheel. Metric and English measurements on the poles let kids check their height. Fun with the alphabet, counting to 100 on the abacus and names of the states grouped by regions are other educational elements.


The Landscape Architect
G.E. Fielder & Associates (GEF) of Columbia, Md. developed the concept plan, master plan and the playground design, creating many new pieces of equipment and play ideas. GEF started with a site visit and a series of site overlays including vegetation, views, vistas, geology, soils, wetland, buildings, historic scenic easement and the approach for sustainable design. The analysis revealed a strong axial relationship anchored by the historic house. The axes were the pathways and lanes leading to gardens, fields, buildings and private recreation areas, or “rooms,” as landscape architects call them. The development of the conceptual site plan and playground design played on the established room theme to preserve the mature trees and tree-lined drive. The room concept addressed the relationships being created by playground, carousel, picnic shelter, office, restrooms, storage, storm water management and parking.


The 18 acres for CLEMYJONTRI Park and Playground is were donated by Adele Lebowitz, the widow of Mortimer Lebowitz, founder of the Morton's department store chain in the Washington, D.C. area in 1933. Designer Grace Fielder, RLA, says the playground blurs the line between physically-able and physically-challenged children. The land could clearly have been developed for $2-3 million homes. Instead, it's a playground accessible to all children. "I can't describe how happy it makes me to see the joy on my boys' faces when we arrive at CLEMYJONTRI, said one mother."


Order and Organization
Order and organization are part of the key to the playground and the sense of place and desired learning outcomes for children with disabilities. Each room in the playground is accessible from a point on the axis, which leads to the accessible carousel at the center of all the activity. The rooms lead to either the carousel or a directional walk on the outer edge. Color is a design element throughout CLEMYJONTRI to stimulate the senses and enhance the learning experience. The room theme in the site plan was emphasized by surrounding each proposed room in green, preserving vegetation or additional plantings. The playground is a green oasis, surrounded by preserved woodlands and plantings of shade, flowering and evergreen trees. Vegetation that attracts bees or which has a high pollen count is minimized.


Tent sails and man-made giant flowers bring welcomed shade to the playground. Adults watching their children play appreciate the many benches located throughout the play area.


Rest and Quiet Play
Some disabilities leave children overwhelmed and unable to cope with constant activity. Intentional to the playground design are areas for rest and quiet play. The children need some stimulation, but they also need to rest and regroup. Children face many learning, social and physical challenges; often these are combined. Play is a great opportunity to help children and their families overcome these challenges.

The rooms in the playground were created with each room incorporating its own theme and expected outcomes. Creation of the rooms makes the play experience manageable for the child and the adult and lends them a sense of organization, place and reinforces the fun. When children experience success in play they know they can succeed in life.


The Rainbow Room features four varieties of swings. The red swings have special bars with handholds on both side of the seat for kids who cannot pump with their legs.


The Rooms
The four rooms for the CLEMYJONTRI playground are Rainbow, Schoolhouse, Movin’ and Grovin’, and Fitness and Fun.


The park's accessibility allows this grandparent to enjoy the playground with her grandson. Accessible features, such as ramps, special swings, lowered monkey bars, non-slip and porous safety surfacing, plus the colorful motifs and intriguing play elements, were highlighted on NBC Nightly News.

Rainbow Room
The Rainbow Room features swings and is brought together by a rainbow. Autism is a spectrum disorder. That means that children with autism can have very different symptoms. They can, for instance, be drawn to a color, or repelled by a color. The rainbow room provides an opportunity to see, touch and embrace an element of nature. The rainbow is translated into an understandable series of colors: ROY G. BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.) The room is filled with all kinds of equipment with swinging or swaying motion. This repetitive use of swinging and swaying equipment and color is not only fun, but is a link between the motion of swinging and the object. Colors of the rainbow are reinforced as the colors of the equipment change with the color of the soft surface. The colors of the rainbow are explained in a picture sign with Braille, sign language and English. The rainbow arches and the rainbow sign are original designs.


In this remote controlled helicopter shot, the Schoolhouse (roofed structure and maze at left) and Movin' and Groovin' areas are pictured. The Schoolhouse's multi-solution maze with moving panels is original to the playground. Maps of the U.S. and North America are on the safety surfacing. The playground is a two-acre wonderland. The land surrounding the playground is preserved as a natural area with trails, gardens and open spaces.

The Schoolhouse picks up the color theme of the Rainbow Room and presents the primary and secondary colors in a color wheel. The upright of the schoolhouse includes six colors and adds black and white, the presence and lack of color. They are also in metric and English measurements. The colors in the Rainbow Room are repeated in the Schoolhouse to prompt color recognition, memory development and associations, all a principle inherit in repetitive learning. The learning turns to fun with the alphabet, counting to 100 and a multi-solution maze with moving panels. The maze and Schoolhouse are original to the playground.


By the drag strip is a wheel chair accessible helicopter on an "emergency launch pad." "There is absolutely everything you need to keep your own little monkeys entertained for hours," wrote a mother on an online review of the playground.

Movin’ and Groovin’
Movin’ and Groovin’ is all about transportation. It reinforces the metric and English measurements learned at the Schoolhouse and the movement of the maze.

The wheel chair drag strip includes a “start tree” that changes from color, to numbers to pictures.

There is a wheel chair accessible helicopter on an emergency launch pad by the drag strip.

A dolphin jumps in the ocean if you catch the shadow play at the right time of day.

A board contains fun and serious transportation facts: When was the first flight? How fast can a turtle run? The answer the second question: very slow. Many of the elements are original designs for CLEMYJONRI.


The Rainbow Room offers equipment with swinging or swaying motions and rainbow arches. The rainbow arches are an original design.


Fitness and Fun
Fitness and Fun is devoted to physical development, with areas for upper body strengthening and balance. Not finding a great series of balance activities, they were created. Examples include cutting of a bench and putting handrails beside it to curved beams. An “energy burner” tops off the Fitness and Fun room.


A carousel with 14 animals and three chariots sits at the center of the park, one of the elements requested by the park's benefactor, Mrs. Adele Lebowitz. The carousel platform is flush to the concrete to allow wheelchairs.

Internal roadways bring it all together, teaching direction, left and right, crosswalks, one way and roundabout travel, all with views of trees and open space. There is a car and bus drop off and pick-up entrance, and plenty of handicap accessible parking.

The mechanical requirements that support this playground are hidden. The entire soft surface is porous, allowing runoff to flow through it. The runoff is carried off through a system of drains to a stormwater management facility. The SWM facility was an integral part of the design and of the green oasis.


At CLEMYJONTRI Playground the tricycles have their own parking spaces.

CLEMYJONTRI has gotten some great coverage on air and in print including NBC Nightly News, Fox Morning News, Washington Post, Newsweek, Parks and Recreation and was listed as one of “10 Unusual Playgrounds from around the World.”


The yellow swings have special high backs to support the head and neck of children who could not otherwise swing on a conventional swing seat.





Fairfax, Va. County Park Authority

­Donor/Benefactor:  Mrs. Adele Lebowitz

Fairfax County Park Authority Team

Joe Sicenavage, (Concept & Master Plan)
Mark Holsteen, ASLA (Construction Documents)
Kelly Davis
Kirk Holley

Friends of Clemyjontri Park, McLean, Va.
Daniel and Julie Clemente (Chairperson)


Fairfax County Park Foundation
Robert Brennan

Landscape Architect & Playground Designer

G. E. Fielder & Associates, Chartered Columbia, Md.
Grace Fielder, ASLA, AICP, CPSI, RLA, President (Project Landscape Architect)
Tolly Peuleche
Shawn Clotworthy
Mike Ratajski
Kathleen Dahill, RLA, CPSI


Architectural Consultant

Studio 3 Architects, P.C., McLean, Va. 
Edward Climo Jr., RA, Vice President, Project Architect




Miller, Beam & Paganelli, Inc., Reston, Va.
Kevin Miller (President, Acoustician)
Blair Parker (Senior Consultant)

Civil Site Engineering

Paciulli, Simmons & Associates, Ltd., Fairfax, Va.
Tod Kolankiewicz, P.E., Assoc. Partner-Director, Public Sector Projects, Project Engineer

Mechanical, Plumbing & Electrical
Summit Engineers, Inc., Arlington, Va.
Jeff Delo (Chief Electrical Engineer)
Ken Cantwell (Chief Mechanical Engineer)
Greg Hayes (Chief Plumbing Engineer)


Elliott LeBoeuf & Associates, Inc., Springfield, Va.
Roger LeBoeuf, Principal Structural Engineer
Jonathan McElwain, Senior Engineer
Doug Elliott, Principal Structural Engineer

General Contractor
Orr Partners, Falls Church, Va.
David Orr, President (Principal-in-Charge)
Scott Siegel (Principal)
Tony Lee (Project Manager)
Rachele Marinch (Project Manager)

Landscape Contractor

Chapel Valley Landscape Company, Inc., Dulles, Va.
James Reeve (President)
Matthew Trendell (Sales Executive)
Vigillio Garcia (Project Manager)
Sergio Herrate (Site Foreman)

Playground Contractor

Custom Park Services, Jessup, Md.
Bill Armstrong (President)
Mike Armstrong (Site Superintendent)

Prime Subcontractor

Falls Church Construction Corp., Fairfax, Va.
James Cross (President)
John Margosian (Executive Vice President)
Paul Rinaldi (Treasurer/Secretary)
Mark White (Senior Project Manager)
Jeff Bartlett (Site Superintendent)

Soils Consultant

Burgess & Niple, Inc.
Chantilly, Va.
Michael Sun, P.E.
Chan Tin, P.E.
Rommel Tamayo, P.E.




Play Equipment

Landscape Structures, Inc.
Little Tikes Commercial (PlayPower)

Playground Rubber Safety Surfacing

Surface America, Inc.

Carousel Manufacturer/Supplier

Chance Morgan, Inc.

Donor Recognition Plaques        

Fastsigns of Fairfax

Photography Credits         
Rebecca Boone
Shawn Clotworthy, G. E. Fielder & Associates, Chartered
Douglas Lindsey, Dolphin Tactical
Jon Ellenbogen
Fairfax County Park Authority
Mike Fendley, Fendley Reality
Mark Holsteen
Dan Pugh
Drew Saunders: ASLA Staff
Don Sweeny

Search Site by Story Keywords

Related Stories

August 25, 2019, 5:38 am PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.
Privacy Policy