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Normal moves up Carden Park project for inclusive playground

A renovation of Carden Park in north Normal, this summer will include changes to make it more accessible for people with disabilities. This illustration, presented at Normal Town Council's meeting Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, shows a rendering.
Town of Normal
A summer renovation of Carden Park in north Normal will make it more accessible for people with disabilities. This illustration, from a report for the Normal Town Council's meeting Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, shows a rendering of the planned new look.

The Normal Town Council voted unanimously Monday to move up by a year a project that will make Carden Park more accessible to people with disabilities.

The original plan called for buying equipment next year, and summer 2023 construction of a renovated playground on a poured-in-place surface. However, the cost of the equipment is expected to increase in January, so it's more prudent to authorize the contract now, said City Manager Pam Reece.

“I think it’s wonderful that we’re making this effort to make this move in a park — with that poured surface. Wheelchairs can be particularly problematic on specific surfaces," said council member Karyn Smith.

"To see some of the playground equipment where even someone in a wheelchair can be transported into the play space, and swings that will accommodate them if they don’t have the core body strength to sit upright — I think this is completely awesome,” she added.

The 5-acre Carden Park was created as a cooperative partnership between the Unit 5 school district, and sits next to Prairieland Elementary School on East Raab Road.

It's one of the town’s most used playgrounds, said council member Kevin McCarthy.

Using an Omnia Partners cooperative joint purchasing program, the council OK’d spending about $180,000 with Charlotte, N.C.-based Cunningham Recreation, to complete the GameTime project in summer 2022. That covers a modular playground unit, individual pieces of equipment, as well as surfacing.

The council also voted to waive the formal bidding process.

“Our experience is joint purchasing offers the best pricing," said Reece.

A budget adjustment, allowing a 25% increase in the project, reflects the cost of the specialized surfacing. This year’s $135,000 set aside for playground equipment replacement didn’t account for any such surfacing, said Reece.

For the Carden Park project, that poured-in-place surface is about $73,000 of total project cost. In parks design, the seamless, rubberized surface is considered Americans with Disability Act (ADA) friendly. The Playground equipment estimate of $170,000, was reduced significantly with a $63,000 GameTime Cares grant awarded to Normal.

Smith said she understands the cost of poured-in-place surfacing drives the cost higher, but she thinks all Normal residents are deserving of such an investment.

In May, several Parkland and Grove elementary fourth graders, and teacher Connie Stanczak joined the council's remote meeting, and led a presentation, via Zoom, on why the town should make its playgrounds more accessible to children with disabilities.

On Monday, Reece noted that May meeting, saying Carden is the first of Normal’s parks scheduled for equipment replacement, since those students made their presentation. She said the town intends to continue to make inclusivity a goal in future park projects, as well.

Several council members reflected on the fourth graders' May presentation. Council member Chemberly Cummings said the Carden project demonstrates the town leaders listened to the students.

In August 2019, Bloomington opened a space in south Hershey Road's Rollingbrook Park with more accessible playground equipment. Called Harmony Park, that more inclusive playground replaced Rollingbrook's aging equipment, and also partnered with Cunningham Recreation.

In an unrelated matter Monday, Mayor Chris Koos announced a planned vote on another play-centered project would be pushed back to another council meeting. A $77,000 proposal to design a new vertical climber for the Children's Discovery Museum requires more work, he said.

The state awarded the museum a nearly $570,000 grant to replace the climber.

In other business, the council approved:

  • Several actions relating to the Trails on Sunset Lake — an amended subdivision plan; the second amendment to the annexation agreement; and rezoning about 20 acres of the property from agricultural to residential.
  • Spending about $163,000 with MTI Distributing Inc. for five pieces of golf course maintenance equipment. 
  • Amending the Normal Liquor Code, to eliminate the Normal Liquor Commission's quarterly meetings and instead call special meetings on an as-needed basis.
  • Appointments of Jay Tummala and Andy Byars to the Normal Planning Commission.
Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.