McKinney gained a lot of recreational amenities during Larry Offerdahl’s tenure: the senior center, a golf course, 14 parks.
What didn’t come between 1984 and 2001, his time as parks director, and hasn’t since, is an all-abilities playground – a place accessible to children with disabilities and special needs.
That’ll soon change.
“It’s one of those projects that just pulls at your heart,” said Offerdahl, a McKinney Sunrise Rotary member helping spearhead the special addition to Bonnie Wenk Park.
It needs to pull on a lot of hearts around McKinney, as $560,000 of it is being funded by the community. Sunrise Rotary and the McKinney Noon Rotary have teamed up in a partnership with the city to make what once seemed a lofty vision a reality – likely by spring 2017.
The vision: a playground where children of all ages and abilities can play together, one with equipment accessible to those with developmental delays, special sensory requirements and other physical challenges.
McKinney ISD’s gifted and talented, or Alpha, students have worked with professionals in recent months to help design the facility. Children, after all, are the most obvious stakeholders in the venture.
There are preliminary plans to include extra shaded areas, benches near all play areas for supervision, wheelchair ramps to equipment and even picnic tables for birthdays and playdates.
The mission: to serve the over 10 percent of McKinney ISD students who make up the district’s special populations, along with those in private school and homeschooled. That means children with Down syndrome, autism, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and visual and hearing impairments.
Presently, many of them go to Frisco’s Hope Park, an all-inclusive playground, for their leisure. That’s unacceptable for a city with more than 155,000 people, said Juli Smith, the other Sunrise Rotary member organizing the project.
“They just want something here,” she said of McKinney families. “It’s time we looked at that 10 percent – the kids who don’t have a place.”
Well, that look takes money – a lot of it. Sunrise Rotary got it started with a $32,000 seed donation, upon signing an agreement with the city for the playground. Another $60,000 is needed just to get the funds necessary for its design and construction.
The Rotary clubs have milestone goals of $250,000 by April and $160,000 more by July. Originally slated for a fall 2016 opening, the playground’s timeline is somewhat in flux, according to Smith.
But it got a significant contribution Wednesday from Step Up Realty: founder and owner Matt Hilton and his business partner Audrey Reed donated $10,000 to the project.
“Audrey and I are passionate about supporting our local nonprofit groups and special projects that improve our communities through our Step Up for Community program,” Hilton said. “We felt that our sizable donation would inspire others to join us in making this dream become a reality for our McKinney families.”
Sizable as it was, the clubs have still raised only around $71,000. Sunrise Rotary is reaching out to the school district and city parks staff to host a fundraising 5K run at Bonnie Wenk, the playground’s future site, in coming months.
The Noon Rotary club called for contributions and volunteers at its meeting Friday to ramp up its side of the vision-to-reality equation. And the McKinney ISD Alpha students will hold special programs for the project late next month – another avenue to spread the word.
In the meantime, the clubs seek additional partners and underwriters. They need the project to pull at others’ hearts.
“I’d like to see all the pediatricians in McKinney support the playground as they, above all people, know the value of play for every child,” Smith said.
Even Offerdahl, who’s overseen much larger parks projects in his time – he most recently served as parks director in Amarillo – admitted the all-abilities playground “is a big deal; it’s a lot of money.”
With the community’s help, and an “all-inclusive” contribution, McKinney will gain that recreational amenity it’s been missing.
“This is probably the biggest thing the Rotary, or any service club, has ever done in McKinney,” Smith said.