Coach Ben Lake and members of the St. Catherine's boys soccer team carry a walkway Saturday during construction of the new playground at Lockwood Park in Racine.
To get the whole story about the new playground that's going up in Lockwood Park, you have to go back to a conversation between Ben Lake and Aron Wisneski over a year ago.
Lake's 7-year-old son has cerebal palsy and uses a walker to get around. It's not much of an obstacle for him - until he gets to playgrounds covered in woodchips and sand. While most kids can just walk or run over the soft surfaces, anyone who uses wheelchairs or walkers struggles to move around.
During a fortuitous trip to northern Wisconsin, Lake stumbled across an alternative. He was actually snowmobiling past a school and saw a playground sitting on top of a bright-colored surface. He stopped to investigate and found what's known as a "boundless" playground with a rubberized surface that's soft for kids to play on, but also easy to cross.
Lake brought the idea back to Racine and found a receptive ear in Wisneski, whose district includes Lockwood Park. Lake lives just a few blocks away.
The plan was to create a playground that's fully accessible to people with disabilities - and anyone else who may be limited in movement. For example, grandparents who wants to play with their grandchildren, but don't want to walk up steps or across sand to do it.
Wisneski took the idea through city government and secured money for the project, which replaces some out-dated, and frankly unsafe, equipment that had been in Lockwood Park. Wisneski said the old playground equipment was one of the biggest complaints he heard from his constituents.
The playground took shape Saturday with the help of more than 105 volunteers who gathered in the park to place poles, attach walkways and railings, add slides, tic-tac-toe boards and even bongo drums. Work started at 8:30 a.m. and continued into Saturday evening.
Professional playground builders from Minnesota Wisconsin Playground, based in Golden Valley, Minn., led construction while Wisneski oversaw the project. The result was an impressive structure that will be a great addition to the park.
Work should be done within two weeks. The professional builders will be back out Sunday pouring concrete to secure the poles and then will return next week to build a concrete curb and pour the rubberized surface into place around the playground equipment.
Among the volunteers were players on Lake's girls and boys soccer teams at St. Catherine's High School. The girls actually started work on the project last year when they took wheelchairs, walkers and other tools for the disabled and studied an existing local playground to understand what was needed to build a fully accessible playground. (For example, girls pushed each other in wheelchairs across sand or tried to navigate the playground's layout with limited vision.)
The boys team then worked most of Saturday (the girls worked in the morning) building the playground. Lake said community service was an important part of playing soccer at St. Cat's.
"When you sign up for the sport, you're signing up for community service," he said.
Leaving the playground project, I stopped Wisneski and shook his hand. "You're doing a great thing here," I said.
"We're doing a great thing here," Wisneski answered, pointing at the volunteers who had worked eight-straight hours at that point, and probably had a couple more to go. "We're all doing this together."
A slideshow of pictures from Saturday's work on the Lockwood Park playground: