HARTSELLE — For Laverne Foster’s 10-year-old disabled granddaughter, a playground designed primarily for special needs children in Hartselle provides an outlet where she “can actually feel like she’s a kid.”
Foster’s granddaughter, Jordan Thomas, suffered a massive stroke at age 3, leaving her legally blind, unable to walk or use one of her hands.
Despite her physical challenges, the Danville-Neel Elementary School third-grader enjoys getting wet in the splash pad and gliding her wheelchair through the John Mark Stallings Special Needs Accessible Playground behind the Sparkman Civic Center in Hartselle.
“The kids can feel normal,” Foster said. “If they go to school, they can’t get on the swings at the playground — they can’t interact with the other kids, so they’re kind of isolated. This playground allows them to go and feel like a regular child.”
Bundled in heavy coats, construction workers braved the chilly, drizzling rain Friday morning as they put finishing touches on the roof of the playground’s entryway, which will feature a cupola with two 30-inch tower clocks and a gold weather vane.
SNAP coordinator Bob Francis said the $56,569 entryway is almost complete, as workers install a 48-inch back-lit sign, memorial plaque, donor recognition wall and benches.
Crews soon will begin excavation at the site to start construction of a $68,485 playground with a rubber surface, spinning chair, wheelchair glider and other features designed for special-needs children.
Despite rainy weather impacting construction, Francis said, the entryway and playground should be complete by April 30 and will open to the public on Memorial Day.
Volunteers produced a $32,794 swing area in 2008, $239,224 splash pad in 2010 and $44,211 pavilion in 2011 at the site on Nance Ford Road.
The playground was created for more than 1,700 special needs children in Morgan County, but any child can use the facility, Francis said.
“I’ve learned along the way that the interaction between special needs children and those without disabilities is very crucial,” he said.
In December 2006, Francis inherited the goal of raising money for the project after several Hartselle civic groups decided to create a destination attraction that also complies with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
The SNAP playground is named after John Mark Stallings, son of former University of Alabama football coach Gene Stallings. John Mark, who was born with Down syndrome, died in 2008 at age 46.
Francis said the three-phase playground is funded through more than $560,000 in local grants, donations and in-kind contributions. In 2011, Aquatics International magazine recognized the playground as the best aquatics facility in the nation.
The final portion of the project — a second playground area — will cost an estimated $215,000. Francis said completion of the facility is “completely donation dependent.”
“When we get the entrance and first increment of the playground done this spring, we hope to be able to leverage that to bring more awareness and impress enough people who can finally see what’s going on out here,” Francis said.
Lucy Berry can be reached at 256-340-2442.
To donate to the SNAP playground project, visit snapplayground.org/donate or send money to P.O. Box 512, Hartselle, AL 35640.
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