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Springville's Woodland Wonder

By Christine Lewis, Executive Director, Preschool Learning Center

Plantings of daisies, feathery Astilbe and Black-eyed Susans abound at the Preschool Learning Center's play area in Springville, New York, where custom play structures and other recreational features were installed for students and children, aged birth-8, with developmental disabilities. The play area was added within and around existing red maples, Scotch pines and a mature grove of native cherry trees.

The Preschool Learning Center at the Children's League in Springville, New York, serves students and children ages birth-8 with all types of developmental disabilities, including speech and language impairments, intellectual impairments, orthopedic impairments, learning and neurological disorders, autism, emotional/behavioral disturbance, visual and hearing impairment, and multiple disabilities.

When the need arose for a new play area, the school commissioned a collaborative design effort between a landscape architect, school administrator, buildings and grounds superintendent, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist and special education teacher. The team worked with a representative from Landscape Structures to combine the right components into two customized play structures.

The primary structure (Landscape Structures) was designed with ramps to all seven decks for unrestricted access. Stepping discs and a balance beam connect the structure, which also features ladders, climbing walls, slides, interactive panels and a clatter bridge.

The fully accessible main structure features ramps leading to seven different decks. Each deck has several types of egress, including stairs, ladders and climbing walls, and is equipped with slides (curvy, double, roller, etc.) and a variety of interactive panels. A clatter bridge, springy balance beam, and mobile stepping discs present other challenges. Two large beds planted with grasses, daisies and several varieties of Black-eyed Susans surround the ramped structure. A large grove of trees beyond the play structures is outfitted with a double BIGGO swing and rotating net climber from Dynamo. The second structure, also designed by the team, features a tunnel, arched bridge, large staircase, and a higher curving slide.

A total of 6,265 square feet of poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing, installed at a two-inch thickness around the two play structures, blends in with the wooded areas that surround the structures. The rubber mulch color mixture was cypress, forest green and grass green. The school purchased extra surfacing from a now-defunct Ohio-based firm, and keeps it in storage for future projects and maintenance.

The structures, swings and other features were installed on 6,265 square feet of custom poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing. The school stored extra safety surfacing for maintenance and future projects to ensure continuity throughout the play areas.

A custom-built, semicircular pergola features "pigs that fly" and other playful shapes created in copper, encircling the square dance chimes (Goric) from the west. A circular design of pavers was chosen to offset the chime unit, and a flowerbed with flowing grasses and feathery Astilbe completes the surround from the east. A pathway of pavers winds its way between the two play structures. Planting beds of wispy ornamental grasses and brightly colored perennials and annuals invite the children to touch, smell and pick the flowers. A vine-covered gazebo, two child-size arches entwined with willow branches, hedges, flowers and miniature arbors lead from one playground area to another. A vine-covered garden room nearby creates a place to hide or hold teddy bear picnics.

A spinner and swings (Dynamo) were added to the play area after the initial installation. Open grassy spaces amidst the trees provide room for imaginative play, away from the swings and structures.

Berms form hills and add interest to the terrain. A considerable amount of grade had to be taken into account, impacting the locations of the play structures and the sidewalk, which also had to meet ADA requirements. The path between the play features is occasionally jammed with tricycle traffic. A tire swing is stationed on the rubber surfacing beyond the ramped structure. A second swing area includes regular swings, toddler swings and an adaptive swing a considerable distance away from the playground area for safety reasons.

Children jump and stomp out musical tones on the square dance chimes (Goric). The chimes engage motor skills and foster active mental and physical play.

Trails wind through a wooded area of red maples, Scotch pine and a rich understory of shrubs on the east border of the property, and the playground is framed by a mature grove of native cherry trees. A storytelling circle with seats shaped like rabbits and frogs was added in the grove.

Over 150 volunteers, including residents, parents, staff and board members erected both structures on an October weekend in 2007. The dance chimes, pavers, gazebo and pergola were added the following spring and summer. The swings and spinner were installed during the summer of 2010.

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November 13, 2019, 8:37 pm PDT

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