Cody is on track to have the first all-inclusive play park in Wyoming.
Three years in the making, the Mentock Park Inclusive Playground project has advanced to the design phase. The city council recently approved a contract with Plan One/Architects to provide architectural and engineering services for $29,000. The amount is roughly 7 percent of the $405,000 project cost.
Parks and Recreation director Rick Manchester said design and engineering services are needed mainly for posts and concrete. Most of the playground comes pre-designed from the manufacturer; however, a project manual is needed for bid letting and construction.
Manchester said they are “excited and anxious” to get the play structure finished. That time could arrive fairly soon.
“As long as the temps stay above 40 or 50 degrees at night, we hope to have it open by the middle of November,” he said.
The Mentock project was initiated by the Cody Rotary Club with a pledge of $100,000 after Ashlee Lundvall brought the need to the club’s attention. Lundvall was paralyzed in a ranching accident in 1999 at age 16. She was crowned Ms. Wheelchair USA in 2013 and has since promoted the platform of making the outdoors more accessible to everyone.
Now a Rotarian, she is thrilled the project is in the homestretch.
“When we started three years ago, I knew something of this magnitude would take time to complete,” she said. “But I also understood it often takes time to do something the right way. And it was vital this be done the right way.”
Play area consultant Erin Starr describes an inclusive playground as one that addresses the needs of all people, including those who have autism, intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other disabilities. At the same time, it addresses the needs of typical children.
As mother to Addison, a 6-year-old first-grader, Lundvall will be among parents enjoying the equipment with their children.
“This playground will not only allow children of all abilities to play side-by-side,” she said. “But their friends and families as well. For some, this will be a first-time experience.”
The Rotarians, Lundvall, city leaders and others in Cody were determined to see the project through despite the financial hurdle.
Last winter, the project suffered a set-back after the Wyoming Business Council Board of Directors gave a “do not fund” recommendation for a grant request to the State Lands and Investments Board (made up of the five elected state officials). The WBC reasoned the project did not have a strong tie between the all-inclusive playground project and the grant’s business criteria. With support from state auditor Cynthia Cloud, the project survived the cut.
The plan was re-evaluated and reduced in size and cost. In April city administrator Barry Cook returned to the SLIB with a project estimated to cost about half the original three-pod proposal. The City was awarded $150,000.
A Cody resident, Cloud looked closely at the Wyoming Business Ready Community grant and loan program rules and concluded the WBC’s reasons for not recommending the play park receive funding were not valid.
“In my assessment, it fit perfectly,” she said by phone after the SLIB approved the revised request in April.
She believes a boundless play park would attract travelers seeking accommodations for people with disabilities. She also looked at grant criteria that said community events must draw people from outside the area. Again, Cody fit the requirement.
“It is exciting for the City of Cody to offer those types of amenities to the disabled community and offer that for traveling families,” she said.
‘All worth it’
Improvements other than play equipment include perimeter fencing and smooth, poured playground surfacing to facilitate wheelchair use.
The new setup will bring the park into federal disability compliance.
“It has been an honor to be a part of a project that will be around for generations to come to enjoy, and I am very thankful for everyone who has supported us along the way,” Lundvall said. “It hasn’t always been easy, and we’ve had our ups and downs throughout the process, but knowing we will soon be breaking ground makes it all worth it.