Site would be St. Albert’s first fully inclusive park of its kind.
Jodi Richardson has been living in St. Albert for the past six years, but has recently started making the drive to Edmonton so her children can play at an inclusive playground in Clareview.
Richardson said her daughter, who has a physical disability, can go on every piece of equipment at Clareview’s Jumpstart Inclusive Playground.
“For the first time in her six years, my daughter was able to play, and we were able to watch her be independent with her friends,” Richardson said. “She was able to fully experience the right to play on a playground like every other kid does.”
In addition to seeing her daughter engage in a range of play, Richardson said the playground acted as an important space for community.
“It was a really beautiful environment with people of all sorts of ability playing at this park,” Richardson said. “My friends and I just thought, ‘We need this in St. Albert.'”
Richardson and her friends put in an inquiry in May with Coun. Natalie Joly requesting the city look into the possibility of having a fully accessible playground. Later, on July 5, council heard that a replacement of the Fountain Park playground — located beside Fountain Park Recreation Centre — could be fully accessible in 2022.
A fully accessible playground is defined by the city as usable by people with physical or sensory disabilities, such as mobility, hearing, or visual impairment, and reaching and manipulating disabilities. Accessible parks incorporate a variety of play and typically include rubber or wood fibre surfacing, as opposed to sand.
The Fountain Park playground was already scheduled for replacement in the city playground lifecycle repair, maintenance, and replacement (RMR) program, which uses a reserve to support the replacement of two to three playgrounds annually.
Daniel Podlubny, the city’s community recreation manager, said that, as a result of the inquiry, the city was able to “rejig” the order of parks queued up on the replacement list to make the Fountain Park playground fully accessible.
“We were already looking at this site and ways for it to include some accessible play features, but because we’ve reorganized we’ve found a way to do the fully accessible planning,” Podlubny said.
The playground is estimated to cost $385,000. According to the original playground information request, a playground without accessible features would cost the city about $150,000.
When asked whether more parks will be made fully accessible in the future through the same process of reorganization, Podlubny said the city will continue to look at accessible features “where it’s appropriate on the site.”
“We’ll continue to embed accessible play features in a variety of sites to spread them out across the city, and then have (Fountain Park Playground) be a destination site in the community,” Podlubny said.
Before the plans were confirmed for Fountain Park playground, the city had announced two smaller playgrounds planned for 2021 construction that include accessible features. The first, Versailles Park, in the Ville Giroux neighbourhood, will be a small firefighting-themed playground that is fully accessible, with a rubberized surface for the entire play area and requirement for ramp or transfer station access to the main play structure.
The second, Kingsmeade Park, in Kingswood, will be a larger community playground that will have a mixture of sand and rubberized surfacing, with a requirement for at least one ramp access to the main play structure.
A new normal
The city released its universal access plan — a 227-page report on how to make sidewalks, crossings and trails, public facilities, and transportation barrier-free to as many people as possible — in 2018.
Coun. Natalie Joly said she hopes the fully accessible Fountain Park playground replacement is “a sign of a new normal.”
“Fountain Park’s a great start,” Joly said. “But considering our universal access plan, it’s really just that. We still have a long ways to go.”
Joly said she was grateful for Richardson’s inquiry.
“Advocates like Jodi are really critical, both to make sure the city knows where we need to do better, and also to remind us that not all of our residents have the same needs,” Joly said. “For those residents it’s just so important to make sure that we do a good job.”
Richardson said she is “so excited” for the Fountain Park replacement.
“It’s a great location, and people are already familiar with the park,” Richardson said. “It will get a lot of use from the community.”
She said her trip to Jumpstart playground had shown her and her friends “how easy it could be” to have an inclusive space.
“Kids should be able to play,” Richardson said. “This playground will help kids get off the sidelines and be able to play with their friends.”
The playground will be funded for construction in 2022, with a projected completion date of fall of 2022.