Local playground to feature equipment for special-needs children

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Children with various physical challenges could have a new place to play - for some, perhaps the only place locally - within a matter of weeks.

An aging playground at McDonough’s Big Spring Park is being transformed into HOPE Park, a facility suitable for special-needs children complete with brand-new equipment on a rubber surface. Official approval was granted unanimously by the McDonough City Council at its Jan. 17 meeting.

Organizers have been raising money for the project for nearly four years, according to Lori Harris, executive director of the Southern Crescent Sports Foundation. That organization has partnered with another nonprofit, Our World, with the goal of also building a special-needs school in Henry County.

The playground was originally slated for a 26-acre site in Lovejoy, but that site was ultimately deemed not feasible for the project and the property is for sale. All proceeds from that sale will go into the purchase of property in Henry County, although the group is also seeking landowners who would consider donating a site.

Harris told the council that a grand opening of the new playground is scheduled for March 25. She said in a follow-up interview late last week that a 50-percent deposit on the equipment - $150,000 - has been paid and it will be delivered and installed very soon, after which there will be a “community buildout” to complete the site.

The playground will be divided into at least two separate areas, one for ages 2-5 and another for ages 5-12. There is still the possibility of a playhouse for children 6-23 months of age, Harris said at the council meeting. Play equipment will be accessible for children with wheelchairs and walkers, as well as those with sensory issues and other needs.

Councilman Craig Elrod, who brought Harris and her organization to the attention of the city, said the existing play equipment at Big Spring Park is “older than most of us” and needed a major makeover. Some of the old equipment will be used at other locations.

The city is taking care of that equipment removal along with some grading work and eventual parking lot repair. All of the new equipment is being funded by the leadership of HOPE Park.

“It’s a great site for this,” said Elrod. “It’s off the road, shaded, and not next to any ball fields or other places with a lot of loud noise.”

The city will also do some work on a park pavilion, replacing a roof that Elrod said is “very old and in bad shape.”

A variety of activities and entertainment will be included as part of the grand opening, with the main event being a bed race open to businesses and civic groups. Harris specifically invited the council to take part in that, with Mayor Billy Copeland riding the bed.

For more information on the project, visit www.ourhopepark.com