PTO backs 'Boundless Playground'

When the Hoover Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization met with the principal nearly two years ago about raising money for a new playground, one image came to parent Tracy Dillard's mind: children in wheelchairs sitting on the edge of the school's playground watching other kids play.

"I thought it was one of the saddest things to see the children in wheelchairs unable to play," said Dillard, whose 10-year-old daughter has autism. "I always felt it wasn't fair. I expressed that view at the principal's coffee."

Dillard's comments changed the direction of the effort for a new playground into a campaign to bring more play to Jackson County's more than 1,600 children with disabilities.

Instead of a traditional playground with limited accessibility for students with disabilities, the PTO is trying to raise $175,000 to build a playground on which every piece of equipment, from the swings to the highest play platform, is within a handicap child's reach.

The parent-teacher group will hold an informational meeting on the plan at 6 p.m., Oct. 6, at Hoover, 2323 Siskiyou Blvd., in Medford.

The group already has raised $25,000 for the playground, which would be certified as a Boundless Playground, a concept born in Bloomfield, Conn.

Last week, Rob Patridge, a former state representative and parent of two Hoover pupils, asked the Medford School Board for some financial assistance in the effort.

"We don't want this to be a six-year project," Patridge said. "As the parent of a third-grade daughter, I'd like to see it happen before she graduates."

Playgrounds in the Medford district traditionally have been funded by PTOs, though the district has paid for some ground-surfacing material.

The PTO wants the playground to be a regional draw that would serve students from all over the district and beyond.

"It shouldn't be incumbent on the parents at Hoover to raise all the money," Patridge said.

Medford district officials haven't promised any financial support but didn't dismiss the idea.

"It just sounds like an amazing playground," said Rich Miles, Medford schools elementary education director. "I really hope they can build it. It will be a great resource for the community."

The playground would have artificial, shredded-bark ground surfacing that would allow wheelchairs to roll over it. Play platforms would have ramps to the top allowing wheelchairs to roll up.

"It could be used as a therapy area for adults," said Pam Philips, a PTO member spearheading the playground campaign. "Anyone with any kind of physical challenge could benefit from that."

The National Center for Boundless Playgrounds out of Bloomfield provided guidance to Hoover in designing its play area so that it would be handicap-accessible and have features tailored for students with disabilities, but be fun for all children, such as musical or textured panels or cubbyholes. Children with autism often seek small, enclosed spaces like cubbyholes to cut down on sensory overload.

"At first glance it doesn't look any different than a regular playground, so children without disabilities will be attracted to it," said Dina Morris, acting director of communication at the National Center for Boundless Playgrounds. "Ramps take children to the highest play deck so they can feel like king or queen of the hill. The swings have backs and arm rests."

There are more than 130 Boundless Playgrounds in 25 states, according to the National Center for Boundless Playgrounds.

Hoover's playground would be the first Boundless Playground in Oregon.

Donations for the playground can be sent to Hoover Community Playground/PTO, 2323 Siskiyou Blvd., Medford, OR, 97504. For details, call 541-772-9086.

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