New Memorial Park playground to open to public in coming weeks with inclusive play piece

The Flagg-Rochelle Community Park District’s new playground at Memorial Park is expected to be completed and open to the public in the coming weeks, Park District Executive Director Jackee Ohlinger said Sept. 18. The project will feature the park district’s first inclusive play piece to welcome all children and adults to a play experience where everyone can interact.

Donation made to project to honor the late Beau Sullivan of Rochelle

ROCHELLE — The Flagg-Rochelle Community Park District’s new playground at Memorial Park is expected to be completed and open to the public in the coming weeks, Park District Executive Director Jackee Ohlinger said Sept. 18. 

The project will feature the park district’s first inclusive play piece to welcome all children and adults to a play experience where everyone can interact. Inclusive play equipment enables children of all abilities to participate, no matter physical, cognitive, social, or emotional development, ensuring play options and engagement within all activities.

"We have been wanting to bring a piece like this to our park system for several years,” Ohlinger said. “Play is extremely important for all children and one of the most important aspects is acceptance to others. And by having this fully-adaptive piece at one of our playgrounds, it will encourage kids of all walks of life and abilities to be able to play together.”

Work started on Friday, Sept. 15 and Ohlinger said that she hoped to see the majority of work done during the following week. Restoration work around the playground will then take place along with inspection before opening. 

Memorial Park was previously the site of the park district’s oldest playground equipment, which dated back to the 1990s. The park district started to find more and more failures in recent inspections of the equipment and was able to remove it while it was still functioning safely. 

“It was next up for renovation,” Ohlinger said. “This new playground will have a lot of neat features. I believe the tower is over 12 feet tall, so it'll be something different than we have in other playgrounds. It'll have climbing, swinging, balance and all different aspects of play. It will have our first poured-in-place rubber around it for the surfacing, which we haven't had before in our parks.”

The park district received a donation of $10,755 to go towards the inclusive wheel at the playground at Memorial Park, which was raised from the Fat Cat Slots golf outing. The donation and work on the outing were made possible by Fat Cat Slots owners Grant Manning and Cory Myers, and Corey Ansteth. The donation was made in memory of the late Beau Sullivan of Rochelle. A memorial plaque in his honor will be placed at the playground near the inclusive wheel. 

“If you were fortunate enough to have known Beau, you would understand how important it was for him to be included,” Sullivan’s family said. “He knew he was handicapped, but he felt more ‘normal’ than not. We lifted, carried, modified and finagled him throughout his entire young life to ensure this. We did everything within our power, but sometimes it wasn’t within our control. There is something about independent play with peers that can’t be replicated when an aid or parent is the only breach to the mobility barrier. Beau was never able to autonomously enjoy the same playground activities as his siblings or classmates. Recently, several individuals and companies donated valuable time, expertise, services and money to ensure that wheelchair-bound children, like Beau, will be able to feel included on a playground. We would like to thank everyone who contributed, planned, donated and organized for Beau to be memorialized in such an awesome way. We are in awe and cannot express enough gratitude to those involved, special thanks to Uncle Grant for remembering and making a difference.” 

Ohlinger said the timing and intention of the donation and the new playground “worked out perfectly” and she called it “wonderful” to receive the donation.

“I personally was able to know Beau a little bit and I can see how he's smiling down on us with this,” Ohlinger said. “I'm really thankful for Grant and his group for putting so much effort into that golf outing. That was a huge donation from that event. We're thankful to be able to have it. I know that the family is looking forward to it as well.”

The Memorial Park playground was selected as a National Demonstration Site by PlayCore’s Center for Outreach, Research and Education, made possible through an initiative by GameTime and the SC Recreation and Parks. Users will be able to provide feedback on their experience that will be used for future playgrounds both nationally and locally. 

The park district prepared a grant application to participate in PlayCore’s initiative and was awarded over $26,000 towards this project. Ohlinger said the total cost of the playground was just over $120,000 and commercial-use playground equipment has seen high prices recently. Inclusive play pieces are rare and due to that, they’re expensive, she said. 

“This is a special piece because it is fully-inclusive,” Ohlinger said. “And it comes with a big price. Having the donation and grant money really helped out in getting this piece here in Rochelle. I would love to see some more things like this added in the future. Each time we do a new build we will look at it."