TMS unveils handicap-accessible playground

What started out as a vision by Thompson Middle School substitute teacher and bus driver Joyce Bulford has become a reality as the school recently unveiled its new handicap-accessible playground.

The playground was made possible through grants and support from Gov. Bob Riley, the Shelby County Commission Parks and Recreation Division, the Shelby County Schools System, the city of Alabaster and businesses and individuals like Bob Green Optical, BlueCross BlueShield, Philip and Rachel Bulford, Mike Hill, Cam Ward and the Master Gardeners of Shelby County.

But Thompson Middle Principal Melissa Youngblood said it all started with Bulford.

Youngblood said Bulford discovered early in her substitute teaching days that the special needs children had limited facilities for recreation.

So, she set out to fix it.

“She took a simple goal and made it a reality,” Youngblood said of Bulford. “Don’t tell Joyce Bulford, ‘No, it can’t be done.’”

The new playground features slides, swings, bars, a balance beam, tetherball, musical instruments and more.

The playground is covered with a tarp and the ground surface is rubberized for safety.

Youngblood said the enormous tarp will help shade the students and protect them from the elements. The tarp got a good test during last week’s severe storms.

“We’ve already had the weather to test it,” Youngblood said. “We passed on that test.”

Although the playground was built at Thompson Middle School and for the students there, Youngblood said she hopes it is something all special needs kids in the community can use. She also hopes this playground inspires others to build them same.

“No matter where the children are, these are all of our kids and our community,” Youngblood said.

The school is currently working with the Creek View Elementary and Meadow View Schools, the Linda Nolen Learning Center and the city of Alabaster Parks and Recreation Department so open up the playground to other special needs children.

Youngblood has also opened it up to the middle school’s peer helpers, partnering different students from different backgrounds.

“I think when the kids see we’re all working together, they’ll see we’re all just Thompson Middle School kids,” Youngblood said. “It’s about building relationships.”