Playground for special needs children opens soon in Aiken

A new adaptive playground opens Sunday following a partnership between city leaders, parenting groups and a Leadership Aiken County class. The playground will be the first of its kind in the Aiken area.

Soon, child’s play will be limitless for children with special needs in Aiken County.

A new adaptive playground opens Sunday following a partnership between city leaders, parenting groups and a Leadership Aiken County class. The playground, the first of its kind in the Aiken area, will replace an outdated play area behind the Aiken County Public Library at South Boundary Avenue and Whiskey Road.

“There’s a huge population of children who don’t get to play at the park. They don’t get to do what everybody else gets to do,” said Heather Raynack, the director of rehabilitation services at Hitchcock Healthcare.

While most playgrounds have dirt or mulch under the equipment, the adaptive playground features a rubberized mat that wheelchairs can more easily navigate. Play stations with toys such as musical instruments or spinning knobs are made accessible at different heights by ramps, Raynack said.

A metal slide was also a critical need for the special needs playground instead of the more commonly used plastic slide. Plastic slides create static electricity that can interfere with the cochlear implants some special needs children have, she said.

“If you can’t go down the slide, what’s the point of climbing up there?” Raynack said.

She said the closest adaptive playground is in Augusta, a commute most parents don’t want to make. Resources are often lacking for special needs families, and the playground helps fill a void in Aiken.

After carefully planning the playground to comply with current guidelines for special needs, installation of the play equipment began in mid-December, said Glenn Parker, the director of parks, recreation and tourism for the city of Aiken.

Raynack was a member of the 2009-10 Leadership Aiken County class that helped raise more than $23,000 for the playground. The city put forth $150,000 from a 1-cent local option sales tax. Aiken Junior Women’s Club, the Moms Club of Aiken and Budget Sprinkler Systems also provided financial support, Parker said.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held 3 p.m. Sunday at the Aiken County Public Library park.

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