Child's Play: New Ground Surfaces Help Spruce Up Playground

A team effort recently brought to fruition a new playground setting for children with special needs.

To a child in a wheelchair, a playground has to be more than some swings and a slide. It has to be designed to stimulate all five senses. The ground has to be smooth enough for wheelchairs to roll on. And, most of all, it has to be fun.

At the Tammy Lynn Center in Raleigh, NC, a facility for children and adults with special needs, management has accomplished all of that with the facility’s new playground.

Built with donated materials and overseen by a dedicated team of leaders from Raleigh’s business community, the playground includes a butterfly sanctuary, bird feeders, herb gardens, a trellis covered in honeysuckle, and a babbling brook. The playground is covered with attractive shading structures and paved with brick.

“We wanted the playground to be an escape from the everyday, mundane tasks. We wanted to create a visually appealing space with interesting textures,” said Mary Freeman, Tammy Lynn Center president. “Because of the nature of our facility it had to be accessible for wheelchairs.”

Landscape architect Chris Hilt of CLH Design, P.A. in Cary, NC, specified brick pavers for the playground. She said that the pavers provide a perfect surface for wheelchair accessibility and at Tammy Lynn, effectively tie the design of the playground to the surrounding buildings.

Hilt said that using a variety of materials on the ground, including pavers, effectively provides a different sensory experience, more in tune with the real world.

“This play area is not just an area of respite; it’s a place where they learn more mobility,” Hilt said. “We used different mediums on the ground. It’s not just interesting to look at, but different mediums feel different. We felt that it would be good for kids to experience another material that they would be introduced to in the real world.”

Helping its clients adjust to the real world is what the Tammy Lynn Center is all about.

The facility offers educational, residential, and family support to its clients, who have a variety of physical and mental disabilities.

In recent years, the center’s playground had become outdated, unsafe and had fallen out of compliance with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The new playground was planned with different “stimulation” areas in mind. The babbling brook is heard from the wooden bridge above it and butterflies can be seen from nearby benches. On a sunny day, children can feel the wind on their face from a swing or a hammock, both of which are accessible by wheelchair. They can see sunlight shining through the engraved glass blocks that make up the playground’s touch wall. They can play four square or basketball, or catch up with family members at one of the picnic tables.

A playground in need
Leadership Raleigh, part of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, chose to take on the Tammy Lynn Center playground as its community service project.

The goal was to raise enough money to build a new playground that would stimulate the senses with textures, smells, sounds and visual appeal. Leadership Raleigh and the Tammy Lynn Center wanted a playground that would offer everyone, in a wheelchair or not, the opportunity to enjoy the new space.

To cut construction costs, Leadership Raleigh contacted suppliers in the area to get donations of materials. Pine Hall Brick, based in Winston-Salem, NC, donated face brick to the project and put out the call for additional donations. Stiles and Hart in Boston, MA, one of Pine Hall’s major distributors, provided approximately 10,000 brick pavers.

“This project was a perfect fit for brick pavers, which offer a smooth surface for maximum wheelchair accessibly,” said Ted Corvey, marketing director and paver business director of Pine Hall Brick. “Plus the brick adds character and beauty to the playground with a richer texture than concrete.”

Kevin Barry, vice president of Stiles and Hart, said his firm was pleased to help with the effort.

“We supplied the pavers for the playground because we feel that it is an ideal surface for this project,” said Barry. “It replaced a hard to get around playground with a parklike area that is easy for anyone and everyone to enjoy, regardless of disability.”

“The brick was also professionally installed to ensure the longest lifespan and smoothness for the playground,” Barry said.

The outcome
The new playground is able to accommodate a number of families at a time and it is a place where visiting siblings also have fun playing.

“It is truly an exceptional space for the children to play and to visit with their families,” Freeman said. “All of the different features, such as the herb garden and the touch wall, contribute to the success of this new playground for the senses.”

“The sensory aspects of the playground are very important,” said Freeman. “The brick, along with the water features and the sun features, gives us a variety of textures, colors and beauty. It has all worked out brilliantly in this environment where there is an abundance of sensory stimuli.”

The products chosen had to be durable for the longest lasting playground possible. The brick will hold up through every North Carolina season. “One thing that I am anticipating is that in the winter, the bricks will provide a better surface in snow and ice,” Freeman said. “It will be a safer surface than concrete in the cold winter months.”

It is a space that children and their families at the Tammy Lynn Center are expected to enjoy for many years to come.