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Attending To Kids With Special Needs

By Michael Miyamoto, LASN

Unlike most playgrounds, the outdoor facility called Recreation Station Creative Play Center in Washington, Pa., wasn't meant to serve a wide swath of children. Instead, it was designed more for a specific group of kids. United Cerebral Palsy used the playground for its patients when it was first built. Now, Washington Hospital Children's Therapy Center and Your Child's Place, a skilled pediatric nursing care center, use it jointly.

Zwicker Land Design, of Claysville, Pa., was hired to oversee all aspects of a specialized play site called Recreation Station Creative Play Center.

United Cerebral Palsy initially used Recreation Station, built in 2008, and Zwicker Land Design was the landscape architect and general contractor for it.

"The playground was designed for families to be able to have their kid with a disability play with a sibling without a disability," said Jeri Zwicker, head of the company, which was formed in 1995. The property changed hands in 2011. Now the playground is used jointly by two entities: Washington Hospital Children's Therapy Center, and Your Child's Place, which serves kids with serious and chronic illnesses.

Earthscapes Structures, of Ferguson, Ky., made all of the play structures, like the play panel shown here, for the Recreation Station playground.

Otherwise, nothing has changed in terms of the playground's infrastructure, and it continues to be used for what it was originally intended.

"Overall, the outdoor play area is designed to be natural with a park-like feel and entertaining at the same time," Zwicker, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, said.

When Zwicker designed the Recreation Station playground, her goal was to create a place for "imaginative play," and not just a site where children could merely have fun.

All of the buildings in what is called the Village are made of recycled plastic. In addition to the Gas 'n' Go Market, other play buildings include a Post Office, Police-Fire Station and one called Recreation Station.

"It interests all ages and all abilities," Zwicker said. "It appeals to all five senses and engages the imagination while developing the gross and fine motor skills of its young users."

Part of Recreation Station is what Zwicker calls the Village, four tiny buildings named Recreation Station, Gas 'n' Go Market, Police-Fire Station and Post Office.

"The Village consists of four separate play structures and four free standing play panels surrounded by pockets of dwarf plants and synthetic grass," Zwicker said.

Earthscapes Structures manufactured everything in the Village, all of it with recycled materials, including the benches. Wide sidewalks meander through and around each of these buildings, so they are easily accessible to anyone.

"I designed the surfacing to be sunken where the structures are, so a wheelchair can access them with no ramps, making the structures more inclusive and the wheelchair user more like someone who can walk into them," Zwicker said.

Much of the rest of the playground is covered with a rubber safety material from Surface America. The Conductor's Hat Climber slide and the Ladybug and Leaf slide were custom designed and made of fiberglass.

"These are easily reached by navigating the small hills they are located on," Zwicker said. "Their larger- than-life size adds to the whimsy of the site."

Another feature called the Construction Dig has a retaining wall in the rear and is basically a large sandbox.

RP Creations, of Berlin, NH, manufactured the fiberglass Ladybug and Leaf slide.

Directly opposite of the Dig is the Amphitheater. Rock steps jutting out from the Dig's retaining wall are used as seats for the Amphitheater, a venue designed to accommodate both adults and children. "A raised plateau in the safety surfacing acts as a stage," Zwicker said. "The play center uses this area for organized story time."

Trains are a large part of the theme for Recreation Station, so there is a custom-designed Locomotive and Cargo Car Climber, made of brightly colored recycled materials. It has a small slide and tubes that children can crawl through.

Enhancing motor skills through touch and sight are important, but Recreation Station incorporates a sound element as well.

The Sound Garden contains instruments constructed to withstand the outdoor environment. It has bongo drums, a set of five tuned percussion tubes.

There is also a Soprano Metallophone that allows anyone to instantly make music, Zwicker said, and rounding out this section of the playground is the 10-tone Whale Drum.

"All of these instrument combinations make the Sound Garden one of the favorite spots for children at Recreation Station," Zwicker said.

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October 17, 2019, 6:26 am PDT

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