The new and improved playground at Blue Ridge Elementary School is only getting better.
The first phase of the school's wheelchair-accessible playground is complete, and fundraising for Phase II has begun.
The state Legislature has earmarked $10,000 for the project, Principal Jeff Collman said, and this spring Pete Alewine Concrete Inc. poured two sidewalks that are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.
Sam's Club recently donated $1,000 to the school for the project.
"It's great to have all the children be able to play on one playground," said Lavonya Maddox, who works in the membership and marketing department for Sam's Club.
The second phase of the project will feature a swing set with regular and modified swings side by side so that children in wheelchairs can swing next to their able-bodied peers, an above-ground sand and water table, and a paint station.
The paint station would allow children in wheelchairs to roll up to a Plexiglas surface where they can finger paint or paint with brushes.
Phase I, which cost about $73,000, included a roller slide; a Sway Fun, a piece of equipment that allows nondisabled children and children in wheelchairs to rock back and forth; a climbing area for children who need to work on moving and walking, and wheelchair-accessible games, chimes and steering wheels.
Collman said the entire project will have a price tag of about $100,000 -- three or four times the cost of standard playground equipment. However, he believes the project is worth the expense.
"People use it all the time," he said. "The kids absolutely love it -- all of them."
So do parents.
Lisa Ballard takes her son Ethan, 5, who has cerebral palsy, to the playground nearly every weekend.
"A lot of times kids like Ethan are overlooked," Ballard said.
She said Ethan also used the playground when he attended the special needs prekindergarten program at Blue Ridge last year.
"He loves it. He gets to get up there right along with (other children)," she said. "It gives him a chance to be a 5-year-old kid and play."
Eva-Marie Benedict, whose 8-year-old son, Jonathan, has autism and muscular dystrophy, said the playground provides him a safe place to play.
"He loves being around all the children. He gets to enjoy what they enjoy," she said.
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