FRIDAY, April 16 — It won’t be visible from outer space, but the latest attraction on Lansing’s resurgent riverfront promises to make a big splash of color and laughter and draw kids and parents from many miles around.
The non-profit Community Foundation announced plans today to build the first “universally accessible” playground in the tri-county area at Adado Riverfront Park on the west bank of the Grand River, between Shiawassee Street and Oakland Avenue.
Early renderings of the “$1.5 million-plus” project show a colorful, 66,000-square-foot complex of see-saws, slides, swings, bright paths, purple undulations, a picnic deck and pavilion and universal access to the river via a large platform and new boardwalk.
Overhead are cheerful rainbow umbrellas and underfoot is a giant, poured-in-place surface inlaid with a map of Michigan, perfect for playing Godzilla and crushing Kalamazoo.
The park’s designers went beyond compliance with the Americans for Disabilities Act to work with Disability Network, the Mid-Michigan Autism Association and 50 local families who have children with disabilities.
Designers were guided by a vision of kids with disabilities playing alongside other kids, everywhere in the playground and surrounding park.
“It’s designed to maximize inclusivity and minimize differences,” according to Laurie Baumer, vice president of the Community Foundation.
Baumer said you’d have to go to Grand Rapids or Commerce Township — more than an hour’s distance — to find a universally accessible playground of this scale.
The foundation is on a roll in its master plan to “activate” Lansing’s downtown riverfront. In fall 2018, work was completed on the wildly successful $2.5 million Rotary Park, a cluster of play areas, hangouts and attractions that draws bustling, diverse crowds to the east bank of the Grand River.
Baumer said a playground wasn’t in the master plan until late 2019, when a Community Foundation member suggested the idea. Baumer looked at the success of Detroit and other cities in building large and creatively designed playgrounds that bring flocks of kids and parents to the river.
“We need this here,” Baumer said. “Fortunately, our board said, ‘Go big or go home.’ They wanted a place people would drive for an hour to experience.”
A local anonymous donor couple seeded the project with a $100,000 gift. CASE Credit Union followed up with another $100,000 gift as part of its “CASE Cares” program. Another $100,000 donor stepped forward just this week, Baumer said.
Baumer considers the City of Lansing a full partner in the planning and execution of the project, but as with Rotary Park, the project will be fully funded by private donations.
The foundation will match private donations dollar for dollar, with money from its Leadership Fund, earmarked for projects that are a part of the foundation’s strategic plan. There is still time for sponsors to snag naming rights for the pavilion, riverside deck and playground.
“We had some funds that were set aside already,” Baumer said. “We’re inching closer to the $1 million mark in funds raised and matched by the Foundation.”
The final cost will be at least $1.5 million, but will likely exceed that figure, depending on how much money is raised. Baumer said the original estimate of $1.3 million had to be scrapped when construction costs soared in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several locations were considered for the playground, but Adado Riverfront Park was the clear favorite because it’s visible to traffic on Grand Avenue yet tucked into a natural berm next to the river, and it’s within biking and walking distance of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Even the perennial problem plaguing downtown attractions — parking — will not present a problem. Not only will there be a dedicated parking lot a few steps from the playground, but Lansing Community College President Steve Robinson has also agreed to let recreating families use LCC’s new parking ramp during off-peak class times, scheduled for completion in 2022, just across the street from the playground.
Shaded shelters, tables and benches are placed all around the playground, giving pooped parents a place to recharge.
Baumer is most proud of the playground’s universally accessible design. Every feature of the playground is accessible to children with disabilities, including children with sensory disabilities such as visual impairment or developmental disabilities such as autism or Down’s syndrome.
A “sensoried climber,” an arched tube where kids can climb to the top and overlook the map of Michigan, is designed in such a way that kids in wheelchairs can hoist themselves up alongside other kids who climbed up the tube on their hands and knees.
The net climber has three sides, each side designed to accommodate a different level of physical challenge. The track ride has a universally accessible seat, with back and neck support, alongside a more rough and ready handle to hang from.
A “linear swing,” favored by many kids with autism, swings side-to-side instead of front-to-back. Kids with disabilities (and their disabled grandparents) can take a ride in a spinning platform without getting out of their wheelchairs.
The central deck has everything from drums and climbing towers for “sensory seekers” to quiet shaded spaces for “sensory avoiders.”
The riverside boardwalks are wide enough for two wheelchairs, with a gentle grade of less than five percent. People seated in wheelchairs are often frustrated to find the thickest part of a fence, railing or other barriers smack in front of whatever is of interest. Baumer and the designers made sure the sightlines to the river from the planned playground, the River Trail and the deck on the river are all clear.
Lansing-based Wieland, the construction manager for Rotary Park, will build the project. Wieland recommended Viridis of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, a firm specializing in accessible playgrounds, to handle the design. Holland-based Sinclair Recreation will provide the playground equipment.
Environmental studies on the site are underway, Baumer said. The final design will depend on the amount of money raised. Site work will begin in the fall, with completion scheduled for 2022.