Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 27, 2014

Palo Alto breaks ground on Magical Bridge Playground

Donors, friends gather to celebrate construction of inclusive play space

by Lena Pressesky

With a flash of golden shovels and a spray of dirt picked up by the wind, Magical Bridge Playground founder Olenka Villarreal, Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shepherd and supporters broke ground Monday morning at the site of Mitchell Park's newest play space.

The playground, which aims to transcend Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance to meet the needs of all children and their families, is slated to open in September.

Villarreal's years-long efforts to build an inclusive playground began when she saw the limitations of standard playgrounds placed on her daughter, Ava, and other disabled children. Villarreal gained the support of community members, some of whom formed the organization Friends of the Magical Bridge and aided her campaign to raise the $3.1 million for the playground.

The Magical Bridge Playground will feature a "swinging and sway zone" that even children with limited trunk support can use. Both stories of a two-story playhouse as well as a spinning carousel will be wheelchair accessible. Three custom slides will be built with added space at the bottom for children who need extra time getting off the slide.

Several families who will benefit from the playground's opening also spoke at Monday's ground-breaking.

Parent Joel Yang, said his family turned down admission at a local school because a tanbark playground presented difficulties for first-grader Jessa, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

He noted that Jessa could have found other ways to play. But, he asked, "How disheartening would it be to be left out day after day?"

"Wheelchair-friendly means stroller-friendly, grandparent-friendly and just people-friendly," he added.

Funding for the playground came from individual and group donors, such as the Peery Foundation and the Enlight Foundation, plus a $150,000 grant from Santa Clara County and $300,000 from the City of Palo Alto.

Editorial Intern Lena Pressesky can be emailed at lpresseskey@paweekly.com.

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