By Bill Derby and previous News & Neighbor releases
Ground was finally broken last Tuesday afternoon for the new Boundless Playground and Splash Pad at Rotary Park after six years of planning and fundraising. City and county officials all worked together to help make the dream come true. State funding through a $250,000 Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant was announced in 2014 but other delays kept postponing the eventual construction start of the $750,000 project.
Rotary co-chairs, Drs. Mike Mefford and Shelley Brouillette along with Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department officials welcomed a large group of club members along with city and county community leaders to the ground-breaking ceremony.
First envisioned during Mefford’s 2010 Rotary presidency, the playground will allow full accessibility and enjoyment by all children, including those with disabilities ranging from mild to severe. It will include features specifically designed for accessibility and enrichment for children in assistive devices such as wheelchairs, and also meet needs of visually and hearing-impaired children.
“Rotary strives to help children,” Mefford said. “While any nice playground would have been good for any child, we thought there are certainly children who don’t have an opportunity to play. That kind of mirrors Rotary’s mottos and how we approach all of our projects.
“After spending six years getting to this event, it sure felt good to put a shovel in the dirt! It was great to see the show of support from the community at the event, which is a testament to the interest and the need for this project. We recently had a discussion regarding how the number of children that will directly benefit from this all-access facility has risen since our initial needs assessment of 5,000 K-12 students enrolled in some type of special needs classroom due to physical or mental disabilities back in 2010.
“Today, that increased number of children makes the project even more relevant for our community. We’re proud that the Rotary Club of Johnson City can be the group that provides this opportunity to our community where kids, regardless of age, ability, or background can come together to play. We’re also proud to show the region that we can organize and execute projects of significant value to the community. While the facility will be an iconic space that will enhance Rotary Park, it is a great feeling to be able to provide the community with a $750,000 project that will truly make a difference,” Mefford added.
Mefford said the Johnson City Public Works Department, led by Rotarian Phil Pindzola, has started preparatory work and expects to see site development in the next week or two. “Phil and Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department Director Roger Blakeley have been working closely to ensure the site preparation plans reflect the facility’s master plan. The site preparation phase will take approximately two months, to be followed by parking lot paving provided by Washington County and playground equipment installed by early spring.”
“We look forward to a ribbon-cutting ceremony next spring! Seeing the park filled with laughter and smiles will make all of the work on behalf of our club worthwhile,” Mefford concluded.
Current Rotary Club of Johnson City president, Gary McAllister said, “We cannot thank Past Presidents Mike and Shelley enough for their hard work and persistence in getting this done. Because of their Rotary spirit, service above self, and love for children in our area we were able to stay on top of this project and finally see it through.”