Story by Richard Essary on 03/26/2019HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Construction of a new all-inclusive playground is underway at Hill Air Force Base allowing kids of all abilities to be kids.
A ground breaking ceremony took place March 21 at the base's Centennial Park.
Tammy Custer, an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) specialist with the 75th Force Support Squadron, said this is something she has envisioned for a long time.
"This all abilities playground has been a dream of mine for our amazing families here at Hill AFB since 2012. I am incredibly thankful to be part of making this happen," Custer said.
Centennial Park is used for many large base events, but currently the only play area is very difficult to utilize for those children with mobility issues. The playground and associated improvements will allow special needs families more accessibility to Centennial Park, providing the opportunity to get involved in base events.
"A true inclusive playground doesn't mean that there is special equipment in a separate area off to the side for those with special needs, but rather, a space designed as a cohesive community where play opportunities are integrated throughout," Custer said. "This is critical for social development for all ages.
"An inclusive playground removes the barriers of exclusion, both physical and social, providing a sensory rich experience for all," Custer continued.
Custer and Ali Seligman, EFMP specialist, were able to take part in the planning of all abilities playground from the start. In March 2018, they invited base special needs families to take part in a focus session, to discuss expectations, wants, desires, and need, concerning equipment and placement for the playground.
"This isn't a pre-built playground that someone decided to plop in place. A lot of thought went in to what kinds of equipment to include, along with all of the accessible aspects to the playground," Custer said. "We have included a large sensory area with music and textures, based on our high numbers of children on the Autism Spectrum."
Hill AFB is one of 11 expedited EFMP bases in the Air Force. An expedited EFMP clearance occurs when a military member makes a permanent change of station to a location with a robust medical network.
Due to this there are a high number of families with special needs and many with significant medical needs, due to the close proximity to Primary Children's Hospital, Custer said.
Seligman said money for the nearly $600,000 project was provided by the Air Force Services Activity Child and Youth Programs.
Playground completion is planned for June 2019, as well as ADA compliant concrete paths from three handicapped parking spots on Balmer Street, leading to the playground and other park facilities.