Hillcrest opens county’s first all-accessible playground

Photo By Andrea Earnest | Bugle Staff

By Andrea Earnest | Bugle Staff

Downers Grove Grade School District 58 commemorated the grand opening of the first all-accessible public school playground in DuPage County last week.

Dozens of families attended the Aug. 17 ribbon cutting at Hillcrest Elementary School, bringing area children to the school so they could try out the swings and explore the other all-accessible equipment the new playground offers. The park, dubbed Owen’s Playground, was the result of a collaborative community effort, according to District 58.

In a press release from the district, parents expressed their support of the project.

“The playground is unique because it will offer accessibility and fun for children of all abilities,” said Hillcrest parent Peg Chaidez, whose son, Owen, is the inspiration for the playground.

Chaidez, with support from District 58, led a crowdfunding effort to secure funds for the project.

She created the Dream Build Play Experience organization in fall 2014 and partnered with Lemont-based nonprofit Abide In Me to serve as the fundraiser’s fiscal partner. Abide in Me helps people with disabilities lead active and engaged lives.

Chaidez pledged to find a way to make a difference after an incident during which Owen’s wheelchair became stuck in the school’s playground woodchips years ago.

To address that issue, as well as others, Owen’s Playground offers a recycled smooth rubber surface instead of wood chips, a relaxation station for reading, double-wide ramps, climbing structures, adaptive swings, wheelchair accessible play equipment, and two Gaga pits – a variant of dodgeball that is played with one ball.

The playground’s designers used modern sustainable technologies and gathered feedback from Hillcrest students, parents and teachers in order to determine the best amenities would. Owen’s Playground was designed to encourage creativity and activity among all children of all abilities.

Members of the Downers Grove and District 58 community, combined with contributions from the Ronald L. McDaniel Foundation, raised $600,000 for the playground’s construction.

“When dedicated community members, schools and businesses partner together, big things can happen,” District 58 Superintendent Kari Cremascoli said in a release.

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