AIKEN — Wrapped like a present with a big, red bow, Aiken’s first adaptive park was unveiled to a crowd of excited children and parents Sunday afternoon.
The library park is the first of its kind in Aiken, and the third in South Carolina, Mayor Fred Cavanaugh said. Previously, parents of children with special needs had to drive 30 minutes to Augusta for the closest adaptive park.
All the top city officials were in attendance, including Aiken City Council members and the new director of public safety, Charles Barranco.
Barranco also served as the class coordinator for the 2009-10 Leadership Aiken class, the group credited with the idea.
The park replaced an outdated play area behind the Aiken County Public Library at South Boundary Avenue and Whiskey Road, which is the ideal placement, said Heather Raynack, the director of rehabilitation services at Hitchcock Healthcare.
“Kids were already coming here to read,” she said. “You really can’t get a better location.”
The park caters to children with special needs. Some changes include a rubberized mat that wheelchairs can easily navigate, play stations with toys such as musical instruments or spinning knobs that are made accessible at different heights by ramps, and a metal slide. The slide avoids the static electricity caused by plastic slides, which can interfere with cochlear implants.
Raynack also was a member of the Leadership Aiken class that helped raise almost $25,000 for the playground. The city put forth $150,000 from a 1-cent local-option sales tax that was approved by voters in 2010, along with the help of other backers, she said.
“It was very expensive, but we knew there was interest in the community,” Raynack said.
Before the ceremony, eager children climbed on the shiny yellow and purple equipment while parents huddled and chatted around the podium.
During his speech, Cavanaugh said the wait was worth it.
“It was a long time coming, but it takes a long time to make wonderful things.”
Cavanaugh credited the leadership class and other partnerships.
“That’s how things happen,” he said, “by people coming together and working together.”
Raynack thanked the city on behalf of the children with whom she works.
“Thank you from the child confined to the wheelchair,” she said. “Thank you from every child that just wants to play.”