Sunday, May 19, 2024

Boston’s Mayor Thomas M. Menino Park is a “universal playground” that opened in 2013. (Photo: Landscape Structures)

A universal playground, to be enjoyed by anyone including those with special needs, will begin construction next year on three-quarters of an acre at Danehy Park, city officials said, and could be open by the summer of 2020. A solicitation went out this weekend inviting designers to bid on the job.

“Investing $2.5 million in a playground that’s going to be 100 percent accessible for children with special needs, the third of its kind in the state,” said Mayor Marc McGovern at a Nov. 5 meeting at which the City Council apportioned $500,000 for design, “is definitely something we should be proud of.”

Boston has a universal playground in the Charlestown Navy Yard by the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital that opened in 2013 – one of the final projects of Mayor Thomas M. Menino – and another playground is underway in Beverly, according to City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. He has visited the Boston playground and personally done some community outreach on the idea, he said.

More than a fifth of students in Cambridge Public Schools report some form of disability, “which speaks to the opportunity to more broadly engage [them] in fully accessible playgrounds,” said McGovern in an Oct. 25 letter to the council. McGovern is a social worker in the private sector, and as mayor he leads the School Committee.

Adults will also be able to take advantage of Cambridge’ playground, which the city says will take into account not only accessibility and mobility, but also potential sensory, cognitive and emotional barriers. The Boston playground, which is targeted for use by children 5 to 12, includes such features as horizontal bars at varying heights that can be used even by people who need to start by lying on the ground, as well as tables made of rollers that engage people on the autism spectrum, according to the Landscape Structures company, which built the Boston playground, and consultant Cheri Ruane.

Boston’s Mayor Thomas M. Menino Park includes a 23,000-square-foot boardwalk and 63 pieces of play equipment on a 15,000-square-foot rubber surface, while Cambridge has set aside around 32,700 square feet at Danehy, in Neighborhood 9 near North Cambridge and Fresh Pond. DePasquale’s office said the playground will go on an unused area next to its Field Street parking lot, and that full restrooms are in “the plan right now.”

Vice mayor Jan Devereux noted that many neighbors wanted to hear about the plan, especially given their fears that the former landfill with its encircling methane trench could be unsafe for children. “Pretty predictable questions,” she said.

A dozen or more experts from the city and community have given input on the playground idea already and agreed to join a more formal focus group, which will be expanded along with community outreach efforts and help guide the playground’s design, DePasquale said. “We just wanted to get an advisory group to work with us to better understand it. This is somewhat uncharted waters for the city,” he said.

While the location is convenient to neighborhood youth- and special-needs programs, DePasquale said in a letter to the council, the park is intended to be “a citywide attraction with the potential to serve as a national model.”