Inclusive playground one step closer

Published 12:06 am Saturday, August 18, 2018

Meg Diggs stood before Suffolk’s School Board during its Thursday morning meeting to request support for a renovation of the Northern Shores Elementary School playground for the Inclusive Play Project.

The project, in partnership with Northern Shores’ PTA, would replace the already old equipment with a playground that will be accessible to those with physical and mental disabilities.

“The majority of the equipment is 22 years old, which is several years past the lifespan of playground equipment,” said Diggs, the project’s organizer. “One in seven children are identified with a disability, and they have been unintentionally excluded from the playground.”

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The group is asking for permission to use its own donated funds to replace the equipment for the school division. They also furnished a petition from that had over 250 signatures supporting the project.

The group wants to raise the money, through fundraising and grants, so it can control the design and the type of equipment used for the playground. It allows them to give the city what it needs without cutting corners, Diggs said.

“We are not asking for funding, just permission to replace an outdated playground,” Diggs said. “We have chosen state of the art equipment, and our design would be an extension of the school building. You can teach in a way that a classroom doesn’t allow.”

The School Board’s only apparent concern was the cost to maintain the playground and its new equipment, but Diggs and her group had already found a potential solution.

“We understand the concerns, and we have been given permission that the city of Suffolk would amend their joint use agreement to include the new playground,” Diggs said.

The agreement could be amended to make the playground the responsibility of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Diggs stressed the importance of having the playground and having it in a central location to the rest of Hampton Roads.

“These kids, they sit on the sidelines and watch as their peers make memories without them. We teach lessons in the classroom to support acceptance, yet we exclude them on the playgrounds,” Diggs said. “We need to take responsibility because our actions don’t match our words.”

The location in northern Suffolk allows Suffolk easy access to those in Suffolk, and it also allows easy access to those in Newport News. Currently, only two other playgrounds in Hampton Roads have the inclusive equipment, and both are located at Rudee Inlet and Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach.

The School Board agreed that this could benefit the community greatly, and they were excited at the prospect of having an inclusive playground.

“I’ve seen this presentation previously, and I hope it is something that the board gives approval since it is not something that will cost us money,” said board member David Mitnick.

“I’m excited about the notion of this in my community,” said board member Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck.

Before the board can vote, Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney will provide a report and a recommendation at the next meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 13 in City Council Chambers.

Prior to the next School Board meeting, the Inclusive Play Project will have a community meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Hub 757, 6801 Bridgeway Drive.