Eight years ago, two mothers chatting at the Center Road toddler playground had an idea – wouldn’t it be nice, they thought, if Woodbridge had a real playground – one with some of the newer equipment that would make it interesting for a wide range of ages and accessible to handicapped. That idea became a reality Saturday, May 30, with the official opening of the Pease Place playground, when loads of town families came out to enjoy the new facility. Among those in attendance were several families with their handicapped children, and to see them embrace the new hangout was particularly gratifying to Teri Schatz and Colleen Inclima, the two mothers at the heart of the effort.
“A huge part of the whole thing was to make it all-inclusive,” said Inclima, and to welcome these families at the opening felt like they had reached their goal. Schatz agreed, adding that in spite of the challenges they encountered along the way, “it was worth it”.
The playground, which is located south of the soccer fields off Pease Road, sports two playscapes, one for children ages 5 to 12, and another area for toddlers under 5. In the center is a tented “sensory” area, where metal tubes can be clapped, banged or manipulated.
The most visible element is the Mega Physics Tower, the first of its kind in the state. It has three platforms, one at two feet, one at eight feet and the highest at 14 feet. Those who want to get up to the top platform need to climb up, before they can slide back to the ground.
There are plenty of benches surrounding the play area, and some picnic tables near the toddler area. A basketball court accommodates players under five feet tall.
Katherine Guzman attended the grand opening with her two sons and husband. Oliver, 4, was off to play while she was carrying Julian, 8 months, who has Norrie disease and was born blind. He learns by touching things that are hot or cold or hard or soft. But most toys are plastic, and don’t offer that, she said. The new playground offers plenty of manipulative and sensory experiences. “We will be here all the time,” Katherine said, delighted that the playground was finally open.
Meagan Acampora was visibly moved that the project for which she had volunteered on the committee was finally finished. Her 11-year-old son Paul, who is wheelchair-bound, was secured in a therapeutic swing, while her 4-and-a-half-year-old dove into the climbing structures. “This is really a Godsend,” said the mother of six. “I feel so happy today.” The best part, she said, is that they now have a destination they can all enjoy together. “This is the first time we are all doing something,” she said.
“Teri and Colleen, you are an inspiration,” First Selectman Ellen Scalettar stated in her brief remarks at the opening. “You made our town a better place.” She also thanked the members of the committee, in particular Tanya Weinberg (marketing), Judi Young (signage), Jessica Artemchuk (Facebbok), Marge Kanyusik (fundraising), and Tiffany Katz (special needs consultant). Even the weather turned out better than predicted for that morning. “I should have known that Teri and Colleen would take care of the weather,” she joked.
Woodbridge School Supt. Dr. Guy Stella said he expects the new playground to be a national model for its inclusiveness. Both he and many Beecher Road School families had supported the effort by purchasing bricks. The Beecher children contributed also by fundraising for a “Buddy Bench” – a special bench designated for children who seek a playmate.
Teri Schatz and Colleen Inclima also thanked Parks Director Adam Parsons for his guidance and State Sen. Joe Crisco, who had helped secure the $200,000 state grant without which the project might have taken a lot longer to complete. [Crisco had been called to the Capitol for the final throes of the Legislative Session. He was represented at the playground opening by his wife, Pat Crisco]. Schatz and Inclima also thanked John Hollerbach of Creative Recreation, the playground installer who had guided them through the process. Miracle Recreation, the manufacturer, also had donated some of the equipment.
After the speeches, the children tore through the ribbon to climb, jump, balance, slide, push and pull, discover, touch and stretch. The Mega Physics Tower was teeming with kids climbing to the top.
Hollerbach, the playground installer, said the tower is remarkable not only for its height, but also offers different sensory experiences and motions that help ground children with autism. “There is a lot of thought on the design and layout of the parts,” he said.
Loops Climbers that look like frozen “noodles” challenge children to climb horizontally to reach the main playscape without touching the ground. There are two pirouettes, and a Ten-Spin – a round platform, on which children sit facing out, while others stand up to turn a wheel to set the whole thing in motion.
All play areas are connected by walkways, which make them wheelchair accessible. Hollerbach noticed an adult couple in wheelchairs whizzing around the playground the day of the opening. “You don’t realize how important these things are until you actually build it,” he said. For him, the event was a happy milestone. “It is so rewarding to see all the parents and children take advantage of it,” he said.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent