(image courtesy Plymouth Magazine)
BY KELSEY KUNO
Creative Play For Everyone
There are plans in the works to update the existing playground and other areas at Zachary Playfield facility. The city site, already teeming with four regular-sized baseball fields, two softball fields, two rectangular fields, four tennis courts, a basketball court, a paved outdoor hockey rink and more, will be upgraded so children of all abilities can play there.
With a tentative opening scheduled for summer 2017, the city of Plymouth is partnering with the Zakkary Johnson Memorial Fund, Cre8Play and the Plymouth Community Foundation to replace the existing playground with a universal play experience. The plans include building an all-accessible playground and a Miracle League ball field, a smaller field that is designed specifically to allow children of all abilities to play baseball.
For the past two years, ZJMF’s main project has been to build the Zakkary Johnson Memorial Play Place & Miracle Field. Zakkary Johnson, who had cerebral palsy and unexpectedly passed away in 2011 at age 15, is remembered by family and friends for his love for adventure and life.
“There was a lot to this child,” Gary Emfield says of his grandson, Zak. Emfield serves as vice president for ZJMF. He adds that eople loved being around Zak, and his classmates would seek him out. “It was the first time that those children even showed up in the special needs room, because they wanted to be around him,” Emfield says.
“Most playgrounds that are wheelchair accessible are nothing more than a sea of ramps,” says Todd Lehman, owner and executive creative director of Cre8Play, and lead designer of the project. “We try to hide the accessibility portion of it so it’s just an amazing environment for people of all abilities to go and play on.”
Cre8Play’s playground will have features for everyone. There are interactive lights and sounds to accommodate those with a visual or hearing impairment. There is a metal slide to accommodate children with cochlear implants who cannot use plastic slides. The park provides plenty of shade as well as water misters to cool kids off, especially those confined to a black wheelchair on a hot day. For children with autism who might feel overwhelmed, there’s a safe cocoon-like environment incorporated in the playground where kids can go and still peek out at the action from inside.
The play environment will have an underwater world theme to honor Zak’s adventurous spirit and love for water. With help from Courage Center, Zak learned to float and swim on his back. Eventually, his parents moved to a house with a pool so he could swim as much as he liked. “A lot of these able-bodied children who became friends of his would come over and he would have a little pool party,” Emfield says.
The playground’s water world theme will incorporate a castle like Ariel’s castle in The Little Mermaid. There are mermaids, crabs and starfish. There’s a sunken ship, a colorful octopus, a music garden and even a meditation garden, which overlooks an existing pond. The play place also uses the natural change in elevation to enhance the underwater feeling. There’s an “on land” section complete with green grass and native plants, located on the higher elevation. Then, as the slope descends downward, the playground’s blue surface deepens in color and the theme transitions to underwater.
The project will cost $2 million to complete. After receiving grants from Hennepin County, the Minnesota Twins, family foundations and others, there is still $1.6 million more to raise. This project is one of the largest endeavors Emfield has undertaken, but he keeps his eyes on the prize: to build the park.