St. Vrain School Opens Fully ADA-Compliant Playground
Norris Design recently worked with the St. Vrain Valley School District to provide a playscape for students with physical and emotional disabilities. The existing school on Main Street in Longmont was an adult school before conversion to a special needs school which hosts K-12 students.
Experiences are not centralized to a play structure, but supported by the accessible trail and planting design. Animal tracks wander through the site, introducing local wildlife to students in the form of a game. The perennial-intensive planting offers textures, colors, smells, and sounds that traditional shrub-dominated landscapes cannot produce. The planting also anticipates active interaction with playful children, encouraging them to explore, touch and smell native plants. Microclimates are emphasized with specific plant species that create unique interest points.
Site accessibility and safety are improved by extending the central spine to the school entrance and removing existing parking conflicts. A fully accessible community garden promotes learning about growing vegetables and healthy eating. An outdoor classroom area is also incorporated for learning in the natural outdoor environment.
From Times Call News, http://www.timescall.com/news/ci_29114520/svvsd-celebrates-opening-one-of-colorados-most-fully-adacompliant-playgrounds
By Pam Mellskog
Kids transferred temporarily from their neighborhood schools to Longmont's Main Street School due to behavioral problems might view it as a Siberia until they set foot on the playground.
This playground includes a pirate ship that sways when students shift their weight on the deck. Another area features multiple drums and various xylophones with tones as pure and soothing as a fairy godmother's fanfare.
"Kids come here when every intervention related to their (maladaptive) social and emotional behaviors has been tried at their neighborhood schools, and those behaviors continue to keep them from making educational progress," Heidi Weekley, the Main Street School's administrative coordinator, said. "... This playground's special features give kids the sensory stimulation their brain needs to help it switch gears. It kind of allows them to go to a different place to better self regulate."
In other words, the playground's motion and music input areas invite students to reboot during each 15-minute outdoor recess if they have become stressed by the intensive therapies and academic work inside the historic brick school building at 820 Main St. — Longmont High School's original site.
"Happy!" Main Street School second-grader Aiden Borrell, 7, said to describe how he felt taking a break from school to stand and whirl on the playground's tall, tilted spinner.
Besting ADA standards
In late October, the St. Vrain Valley School District celebrated the grand opening of this playground as a model of exceeding the minimum standards outlined for playground construction by the Americans with Disabilities Act — a comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
ADA's accessibility guidelines for play areas call for public entities, such as public schools, to "create a general level of usability for children with disabilities." For instance, if a playground includes two to four elevated play areas, it must also include a minimum number of ground-level play components for physically disabled children on an "accessible" route, such as rubber tiles versus gravel or wood chips.
At Main Street School, the playground features a wheelchair-accessible ramp to elevated play areas along with raised garden beds for outdoor experiential learning within reach of the wheelchair-bound.
But there's more access built into this playground than most know to appreciate.
New playground construction typically features plastic slides. Main Street School's playground includes one metal slide to allow hearing impaired children with cochlear implants to slide without generating static electricity that builds up on plastic slides and can damage implants.
As for blind and low vision students, they can let their fingers do the walking to multiple panels stamped with Braille over letters, numbers and puzzles.
The playground goes so far beyond ADA's minimum standards that it is on par with only a few other public school playgrounds statewide, according to the district's website.
"This is a fun physical place," said Christina Tillery, an instructional coach on staff with the Serious Emotional Disability Program since the Main Street School that houses it opened seven years ago. "But it is also a social experience where our students can practice how to take turns and resolve peer conflicts."
The transitional program's teachers support students who struggle emotionally and socially to recognize what triggers their disruptive behavior and what coping skills, such as self awareness and self advocacy, they can tap instead of acting out.
"For most kids, playground time is one of the most unstructured times in their school day," Tillery said. "So, this playground gives them a place to practice the prosocial behaviors they will need to transition back to their neighborhood school."
Building from scratch
Perhaps the best part about the new playground is that Main Street School students got to weigh in on its design with Jerry Crumpton, the district's in-house architect.
"It was designed almost 100 percent by students who all have unique needs," Brian Lamer, the district's assistant superintendent of operations, said.
He added that district superintendent Don Haddad brought up the playground project at Main Street School in 2014 because of the special student population there and the substandard outdoor activity area.
Then, students in the kindergarten through 12-grade program needed to cross a school parking lot on the building's south side to play in an open field.
"The superintendent wanted to know how we could better embrace that child in the program, how we could get that child to go outside, have fun on the playground and just forget their woes for a little while," Lamer said.
Because the district saved money completing other projects originally underwritten by bond funding passed in the 2008 election, it could afford to invest in the Main Street School's new playground.
Crumpton wove student ideas into his design, and the district contracted with Denver-based landscape architect Norris Design to complete the blueprints. Centennial-based Designscapes Colorado then built out the infrastructure.
Demolition on the existing parking lot began in June. Playground buildout, which includes wildlife footprints sandblasted on the new sidewalks, wrapped up in October.
The project cost $334,000, Lamer said.
"Money is so tight," he continued. "But I would say that it was fun and rewarding to build that playground because it was the right thing to do."