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Metro Newsroom

Ground Broken for Playground for Children With Disabilities in Shawnee Park

Tuesday September 28, 2010

Several years ago, Mitchell Barnes expressed the wish to be able to play alongside other kids his age in a playground. However, his condition – Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy – made going to a conventional playground extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Partly as a result of this wish, Mitchell and his parents, Mitch and Meredith, founded the DREAM (Duchenne Research, Education and Miracle) Foundation, to raise funds and build awareness about the disease. The DREAM Foundation, in collaboration with the Olmsted Parks Conservancy and Metro Parks, broke ground today in west Louisville’s Shawnee Park on what will become the third “play together” playground in the public-private partnership between the three groups.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this collaboration and to see this dream come true,” Mitch Barnes said. “I can’t express what it means to see all these groups working together for one common goal: to enhance the quality of life for all children, disabled and not.”

The partnership has already resulted in the construction of a new playground in Des Pres Park in eastern Louisville and Iroquois Park in Louisville’s south end. The Shawnee Park playground will be modeled after the one that opened in Iroquois Park in 2007, and will feature a sprayground with multiple water spray jets and misting devices, and a multi-dimensional playground area complete with swingsets, slides, and shaded areas.

“Frederick Law Olmsted's objective for all his parks was that all people, regardless of differences, could benefit from everything that parks offer. This "play together" playground would make Mr. Olmsted smile. We're delighted to help bring this project to life,” said Mimi Zinniel, director of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. Shawnee Park is one of 18 parks designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his firm.

Funding for this project includes $300,000 from Louisville Metro Government, $200,000 from the DREAM Foundation and $150,000 from the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

“It’s an honor for us to partner with the DREAM Foundation and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy on this project, and to continue this relationship,” Mayor Jerry Abramson said. “The commitment of the Barnes Family to making this community a better place to live is truly inspiring, and their hard work is resulting in another great playground where children can play together, regardless of their level of ability.”

Mitchell, who was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in 1998 and is a sophomore at Male High School, was in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony, along with his parents and officials with the Olmsted Parks Conservancy and DREAM Foundation.

The new playground uses a series of ramps designed so wheelchair users can access them easily. The ramps take users to upper playground decks for access to those play elements. There is also a large boat-type element of the playground that can accommodate up to 8 people sitting and 2 wheelchairs.

Rubber surfacing in the design of the playground also makes it easy access for wheelchairs or those who might require the assistance of a crutch or walker. In the splash play area, the sounds of water will stimulate the senses of visually impaired children. The sprayground will also have a steamboat theme, celebrating Shawnee Park’s relationship with and proximity to the Ohio River.

“Shawnee Park is already one of our most heavily-used and scenic parks, and we believe the playground/sprayground is going to be a real enhancement that visitors of all ages will enjoy,” Metro Parks Director Mike Heitz said.

Jack Will, Development Director for the DREAM Foundation and a member of the non-profit Louisville Metro Parks Foundation, said it is the group’s goal that “play together” playgrounds like the one at Shawnee become “destination points” for families in Louisville and the surrounding areas who are looking for sites where all children can interact and play on an equal basis.

Construction on the project is expected to begin this fall, with completion to come in late spring 2011.

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