City Council Votes in Support of All-Inclusive Playground at Butler Children’s Park
With the future of the Butler Children’s Park in the balance, the West Plains City Council threw its support behind a proposal from the City of West Plains Monday night to construct an “all-inclusive” playground at the site, making it one of only a handful of playgrounds in the Missouri-Arkansas region that will provide play experience for children of all abilities.
The proposal was accepted by a vote of 4-1.
As part of the proposal, the Parkside House that currently sits on the property would be removed to make room for new all-inclusive playground equipment, a water “splash” pad, 37 new parking spots, new fall protection surfacing, a new grilling/picnic area, and approximately one third of a mile of new walking trails. The all-inclusive playground is designed to move beyond basic compliance with the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) Act and provide an enriching and accessible play experience for all children.
The City proposes to pursue a Land Water Conservation Fund grant to pay for 45 percent of the project, with the City using its labor/equipment for about 30 percent of the “match.” The only cash needed for the park (approximately $240,000) will be applied from Capital Improvement and Transportation Tax dollars, with the Capital Improvement Tax having available funds due to cost savings on the Porter Wagoner sidewalk project. That sidewalk was built primarily from grant funds.
“All Inclusive” Playground
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 4,053 students with disabilities in the region received special education services in March, 2016, with a low range of 116 in Shannon County and a high of 1,248 in Howell County. Parks Director Mike Davis said the construction of an all-inclusive playground will provide those children, and their families, with enriching play opportunities that are currently non-existent in the area.
This would also satisfy one of the three pillars of the National Recreation and Park Association: Ensuring all people have access to the benefits of local parks and recreation.
As proposed, the project involves three “phases”, with the first phase including the removal of the Parkside House, construction of a small water splash pad, and rehabilitation of the existing fence around the park. The second phase would include construction of new walking trails, and the installation of all-inclusive playground equipment and accompanying ADA-compliant fall protection surfacing. The third phase includes construction of 37 new parking spaces around the park, new fall protection surfacing to replace the existing pea gravel, equipment for an outdoor “workout” zone at the park, and a new picnic/grilling area.
The Future of the House
At issue for the City of West Plains has always been the costs associated to rehab the existing house, with estimates four years ago ranging between $600,000-$800,000. That cost, its age, and the lack of a practical use for 4,000 square feet that can only be used for the benefit of the children per the conditions of the existing LWCF grant, complicated matters for the City moving forward. The House previously had served as the Parks and Recreation Office until 2014, when the Parks Office was relocated to the existing Winter Sports Complex off Howell Avenue.
The House was then leased by the City to the Friends of the Parkside House from 2014 until June, 2018, with that group unsuccessful in raising the funds necessary to rehab the House. During those four years, the building has sat vacant and boarded up, prompting the City Council to decline a lease renewal with the group this Summer because of inactivity and concerns about sustainability. Safety officials deemed the House a potential hazard, particularly because of its location in the heart of an active children’s park.
Because of the sentimental nature of the House to many longtime residents, the City has proposed to sell the existing House to the Friends of the Parkside House for $1, who will then be responsible for moving the House to another location of their choosing. Those moving costs, however, will be paid by the Friends of the Parkside House, with a deadline established for the move. If that deadline is not met, the House would revert back to the City for its removal.
With Monday night’s City Council decision, City of West Plains crews will begin planning accordingly for the project, said City Administrator Tom Stehn. This includes filing the appropriate paperwork necessary for the LWCF grant and establishing timelines for each phase of the project. Stehn admitted that although the Parkside House has been a longtime fixture in West Plains, removing it is a “necessity” in order to maximize the park’s potential and enjoyment for all ages.
“An all-inclusive playground would give children of all abilities, including children with developmental and physical needs, a play space they and their families can enjoy,” said Stehn. “Playgrounds and parks should be meant for all people to enjoy, and this park will be designed so that everybody in West Plains can enjoy it.”