Elmhurst Park District officials gathered Saturday for a ribbon-cutting marking the re-opening of Butterfield Park and the grand opening of the Playground for Everyone, a fully inclusive and accessible playground district officials say is the first of its kind in Elmhurst.
Board President Vince Spaeth said the $600,000 Playground for Everyone was put together with $350,000 of park district money and $250,000 from sponsors and contributions from the community, including a February fundraiser, individual gifts and an online crowdfunding campaign.
“I’m proud to be part of an organization and a community that allows that to take place,” Spaeth said.
Park district executive director Jim Rogers said that each year the district re-works one of its 18 playgrounds. In 2015, as planning began for work on the playground at Butterfield, 385 E. Van Buren St., district officials said a vision for a different kind of playground emerged.
Inspired by a Special Kids Day and the People for Elmhurst Parks Foundation, planning began for a completely accessible playground began. The project focused on a place where children of all abilities could play together on sensory-rich structures. The aim, officials said, was to provide play equipment and areas for children with mobility challenges and developmental disabilities including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.
Judging by the reaction of 11-year-old Hope Jendreas, who uses a wheelchair, the effort was a success.
“We’re really excited about it,” said her mother, Dottie, helping Hope get in place on a large wheelchair-accessible glider.
“She can get on everything,” Jendreas said. “It’s great that our community does this.”
In addition to accessible equipment, the barrier-free playground includes ground level play structures, safety surfaces and a quiet escape zone. District officials say the playground exceeds accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Spaeth noted that at one time the Butterfield playground included a large section of concrete sewer pipe that he and other kids climbed through, over or around.
Longtime park neighbor Chris Elonich, on hand for the celebration, remembered that pipe.
“I played here as a kid, my son played here,” said Elonich, adding that he missed access to the park over the summer as renovations took place.
“Very worthwhile to see the result,” he said. “I’m excited to have the park re-opened and especially excited to have the Playground for Everyone so kids can play without being encumbered by (the limitations of) conventional equipment.”
The overall Butterfield Park redevelopment project includes a number of other upgrades and improvements. Those included a barrier-free path with a section of permeable pavers, new backstops on some of the ball fields, new drinking fountains, a reconfigured parking area with additional handicapped parking, renovated tennis courts with improved lighting and stormwater control features that include drainage improvements, under-field drainage areas and a basin to provide about a 0.5 acre-feet of stormwater detention.
Graydon Megan is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.