In talking about an inclusion playground, Smithfield parks and recreation director Gary Johnson points out that it’s part of a new way of thinking. The playground isn’t just a space for disabled children to play while other kids play on traditional playgrounds. An inclusion playground is for everyone.
“Here’s the thing about an inclusion playground: An inclusion playground is not just inclusive to disabled kids,” Johnson said. “It allows my child who is disabled to play with his sibling who is not. It allows families to play together who may have one disabled child, but they can come together and play. There’s something to do for everyone. We want it to be all inclusive, meaning everyone.”
Johnston County has never been closer to having its first inclusion playground. The Town of Smithfield has awarded a nearly $400,000 contract to begin the first phase of construction on the town’s long-discussed inclusion playground. The project, on the west side Smithfield Community Park near Buffalo and Booker Dairy roads, will include a two-acre playground and a two-acre Miracle League baseball field.
Johnson said the site work and concrete phase of the project should begin in a few weeks and take 210 days to complete. The town had twice before sought bids on the playground and field as a turnkey $700,000 project. But one solicitation for bids drew two few companies, while the other returned bids that were too high. Johnson said the town then decided to bid the project in pieces, beginning with the site work, which went to Professional Services Group LLC out of Florida.
Smithfield first started talking about an inclusion playground in 2009, when the town redid its recreation master plan, Johnson said. But the project began to take shape later when the Partnership for Children of Johnston County and the Miracle League of Johnston County teamed up. Through fundraising and grants won by the town, the full $700,000 is sitting in a Smithfield account.
Clayton has been pushing to build an inclusion playground of its own in East Clayton Community Park, but initial fundraising efforts stalled. Late last year, playground boosters brought in an advertising firm to help raise money from corporations and set a fundraising deadline of next November.
The layout of the Smithfield playground will include a rubbery surface, multiple shelters, sandboxes and various features designed to appeal to the senses.
“All the landscaping is chosen for either texture or aroma,” Johnson said. “You’ve got a music area for the visually impaired. You’ve got sidewalks that are textured, a lot of different textures and surroundings. Everything is specific to that (idea), but yet it’s conducive and inclusive to anybody that can use it. We expect natural able-bodied people to use it just like anybody else. The park in Cary is full all the time. It is amazing.”
Ground broke on the Smithfield project more than two years ago, but work stalled because of the bids. Moving forward, the project will develop one of the untouched portions of Smithfield Community Park.
Johnson said the park already hosts games in the Miracle League, a group that focuses on disabled children and adults playing sports like baseball. The new field will be entirely synthetic, with bases and lines already in the material, so everything is a level plane.
Johnson thinks having the inclusion playground and field nearby will be an exciting feature for Community Park.
“We’ll be the only ones we’re aware of in the Southeast to have that,” Johnson said. “If you have a Miracle League game here, these kids can play here before or after the game, so it’s pretty amazing in that aspect.”