At a Ridgefield elementary school, parents raise funds for an 'accessible and inclusive' playground

RIDGEFIELD — Students at Ridgebury Elementary School will have a new place to play when classes commence this fall.

An inclusive, ADA-compliant playground will be installed there this summer thanks to a large fundraising effort by the Ridgebury PTA and a $60,000 contribution from the town.

Plans to bring improvements to the K-2 playground were first presented to the Board of Education in 2015 and again in 2017 when it was included on the district’s five-year capital improvement list, according to PTA co-President Beth Ingram.

As the head of the playground committee, Ingram formed Rex’s Playground Fund to raise money for the roughly $120,000 project. The fund’s name is inspired by Ridgebury’s German Shepherd mascot.

What makes an inclusive playground?

Let Kids Play believes playgrounds need to meet six top-level requirements to be truly inclusive. Ridgebury's K-2 playground design meets or exceeds the following requirements:

1. Multi-sensory: There are opportunities for children to stimulate tactile, auditory, visual,

vestibular and proprioceptive systems.

2. Surfacing: The playground uses unitary surfacing.

3. Graduated levels of challenge: Every child who visits the playground is challenged at their level. No one is on the side-lines, and no one is bored.

4. Play opportunities for people using wheelchairs: Playground includes at least three things a person can do from their wheelchair or through a simple transfer and postural support.

5. Addressing children who get overwhelmed: Adding fences, orientation paths, wayfinding and

cozy spaces make it easier for children to manage their environment.

6. Social play: There are places for children to experience various types of social play, especially cooperative play.

Source: Letter, Let Kids Play

“The PTA is passionate about making a play space that is accessible and inclusive of all people,” Ingram said. “We tried to design a play space that allows children to take risks, experiment and test boundaries.”

Ingram worked with Newington-based company Creative Recreation to devise an inclusive, ADA-compliant playground with a wide variety of cooperative play experiences. The design includes a Ten Spin, an arched swing set with an inclusive seat and equipment that stimulates different sensory systems. It also features a wheelchair ramp and “cozy corners” to accommodate children of all needs.

The committee recruited Let Kids Play to conduct a third-party review of the design. The consulting firm works with clients to develop projects that ensure inclusive play opportunities.

In a letter to the committee, Design Consultant Mara Kaplan wrote that the project’s design met or exceeded the firm’s inclusivity requirements. 

The physical surfacing of the playground also prioritizes inclusivity. Ridgebury parent Matt Vance, who owns a local artificial grass company, explained that the turf will be retrofitted with one-inch thick foam padding to provide a smoother ride for wheelchair-bound children.

He added that an anti-static technology built into the turf will prevent children with cochlear implants from short circuiting their devices. “If they get shocked, they can short out their implants,” Vance explained. “On this turf they can run and play without any issues.”

With an antimicrobial also built into the artificial grass blades, the new playground will have “the cream of the crop of turf,” Vance said. “It’s soft, inviting and a wonderful surface to socialize on.”

Ridgebury Principal Jamie Palladino said, “Having an additional space (for children) to play, socialize and unwind is really gonna make a difference (and) bring a sense of energy to our school.”

The town will begin prepping the site for construction on the K-2 playground next month, but fundraising efforts are still underway. The committee recently sponsored a read-a-thon that raised more than $32,000 for the project and is planning a golf outing for the fall.

Palladino added that the school is eyeing an ADA-upgrade for its 3-5 playground, which would also require “a big fundraising push.”

Ingram encouraged residents and businesses to contribute to the cause, saying, “We believe this playground will be a huge asset not only for the Ridgebury community but for the entire town of Ridgefield.”

Those interested in donating can contact Ingram at ridgebury.elementary.playground@gmail.com.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com