A group of Franklin teens was brainstorming a project they could complete for the city when their ideas led them to a new playground.

They don’t have just any playground in mind. They’ve designed an inclusive playground, which will be the first of its kind in Franklin, where able-bodied children and youngsters with disabilities can play side-by-side.

The high school students picked a location along U.S. 31 for maximum visibility, sorted through all the play features they want it to have, picked the colors and have a plan to raise $150,000 from the community to make it happen.

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In the end, they hope to have created a legacy project that will serve Franklin families, and even their own future families.

“I will always know we did this,” said Jonathan Ott, Franklin Community High School senior and president of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council. “It will be good to build something that we can look back on.”

Fundraising is underway now for the playground planned for Blue Heron Park, across from Greenlawn Cemetery on U.S. 31. The project has been underway since August and the goal is to have a community event to build the playground in April and an opening ceremony in May.

The need is apparent, the 23-member youth leadership council learned. Their research showed them that 2,000 school-age children with ambulatory disabilities live within an hour of Franklin, and the closest parks to accommodate them are Independence Park in the Center Grove area and one in Columbus, senior Jacob Freeland said.

“It felt important,” Freeland said. “We don’t have anything like this in Franklin.”

Children using a walker, wheelchair or no assistance will be able to play side-by-side, Franklin Parks and Recreation Director Chip Orner said. They can race up wide ramps, and children who use wheelchairs will have easy access to the entire playground due to a rubberized surface that is also safe in case of a fall.

No other park in Franklin has the surface, which is expensive. The addition of the surface for the city is significant, Orner said. The youth council knew the cost but insisted on having the surface and said they would work harder to raise money, he said.

An inclusive playground includes features that engage the physical, cognitive, communication, social-emotional and sensory development of a child, Orner said. Expect to see features that make music, too.

“It’s such a cool project,” Orner said. “They designed it all the way down to the elements. They wanted the merry-go-round, particular swings, this particular color. It’s kid-driven, kid-fundraised, for kids.”

The playground will include a rail system, called a transfer station, where children could get out of their wheelchairs. And the merry-go-round isn’t just a spinning surface with rails to hold onto. The feature includes seats that children can be strapped into. The designs show how nearly every feature has been adapted to work for all children.

“An inclusive playground is for everyone,” Orner said, and the goal is to not segregate people with special needs away from others.

City workers are tearing down a playground that has been damaged repeatedly by floodwaters at Blue Heron park. The new playground will be built near the parking lot and park sign along U.S. 31, in an area that isn’t as prone to take on water during heavy rains.

The total cost is estimated at $305,000, with the majority of those expenses being the $140,000 main play structure and $127,000 for the surfacing.

The teens hope to raise $150,000, with the rest of the money coming from park impact fees that developers pay when building new homes, city park funds and a $70,000 grant from GameTime, the company designing the playground.

When the group was discussing ideas for this year’s project, the concept of a playground for both able-bodied and disabled children jumped out to senior Morgan Pietras, who has a relative who uses a wheelchair.

“Now more kids can have more to play on and it is accessible for them and their friends as well,” Pietras said.

The next steps are to contact local civic or philanthropic organizations to make presentations and ask for money, senior Emma Beavins said. The teens will also write grant applications and try to get matching funds, she said.

Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett inherited the youth leadership council from former mayor Joe McGuinness and supports it because it teaches the teens how government works, but also fosters in them a desire to be involved in government.

Barnett sees the youth council developing the future residents, who could become city leaders or employees, he said.

The youth leadership council completed its first project — redesigning the city’s flag — last school year.

At a glance

You can help

The Franklin Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council has designed an inclusion playground for the city and is on a mission to raise money.

Here’s how you can donate:

At the Johnson County Community Foundation: Make a tax-deductible donation under the Franklin Parks and Recreation Fund.

At city offices: Contact the mayor’s office at 317-736-3602 or the parks and recreation office at 317-736-3689. The parks and recreation office can also help coordinate a presentation for your business or organization by the youth leadership council.

Author photo
Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at mholtkamp@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2774.