EXPLORE Playground officially opens to the public

HOOVER – The EXPLORE Playground opened on Wednesday, May 1, in Hoover, with at least one attendee at a special ceremony ready to claim the facility will change lives.

Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato and members of the Hoover City Council joined with a host of partners and community members to celebrate the grand opening of the facility, which is located adjacent to the RV park at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex.

The inclusive playground contains several unique features that will allow all children to play alongside each other, including those with disabilities and mobility challenges.

Brocato was first approached about the park when he took office in 2016. After reviewing the idea, he realized the city had several accessible and inclusive playgrounds, but not on the magnitude of what he thought should be offered.

“I talked with our folks and decided we could have the best universally-designed, inclusive playground in the area, region and possibly the state,” Brocato said.

EXPLORE includes a 17-foot, exclusively designed clubhouse that will allow for two mobility devices inside while holding several more on the deck. The inside features a custom bookcase, window seat, fireplace and television along with a wide variety of textures and sensory components throughout.

The outside includes a rope ladder climber and different types of insects and animals.

The splash pad, once it opens in the next few weeks, will also allow for children with and without disabilities to play side by side.

The 15,000-square-foot playground and 7,000-square-foot splash pad sits near the Finley Center.

Hoover Community Service Officer Dee Nance headed up the project. Nance, who is an ADA Specialist and Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, created a knowledgeable team of people to assist with the project, including professionals from United Ability, the Bell Center, Alabama Instituted for the Deaf and Blind, the Lakeshore Foundation, along with special education teachers and their students.

Input was also included from community members both with and without disabilities.

“The playground and splash pad were designed to fulfill the social, emotional, cognitive and communication needs of all people,” Nance said. “It is intentionally not labeled a ‘special needs playground’ because it is not. This universally designed inclusive playground and splash pad are design to provide an outdoor recreation experience for all people which makes this a ‘quality of life place.’”

Funding for the $2 million project came from a variety of sources, including $775,000 from the city and the rest from generous contributions and donations from local and statewide lawmakers, companies and organizations, many of which were recognized at the grand opening.

This destination park is open to the public and free of charge.

The playground will be open from dawn to dusk year-round, and the splash pad will be open from dawn to dusk from late March through September.

Speakers at the grand opening included Kelly Bonner, project coordinator of training and education for the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, who said her husband faces challenges in spending recreational time with their 3-year-old daughter because he is in a wheelchair.

“This playground, right behind me, will change our lives,” Bonner said and added that standard handicap accessible accommodations do not allow someone to fully participate in activities. “When you build a playground like this, now we’re talking about access.”