CAMDEN Playground needs major work

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, November 30, 2013

JANESVILLE--CAMDEN Playground offers children with disabilities the extra help they need to play with other children.

Now after 20-plus years and 1.3 million visitors, the playground—the first of its kind in the world to be 80 percent accessible—needs a little help of its own.

Located in Palmer Park, CAMDEN is run by a nonprofit foundation that over the years has continued to raise money and sponsor workdays for the playground's upkeep and for new equipment.

The foundation initially raised $300,000 and sponsored numerous workdays to build the structure, which was finished in 1993. Janesville's parks department also collaborates with the foundation to maintain the park.

Now, with sections of the playground deteriorating, the city has offered $70,000 for renovations if the foundation can raise another $30,000.

Up to a half of the playground might need renovation or replacement, depending on an architect's finding.

The work would begin in fall 2014, said Sherry Kuelz, president/co-founder of CAMDEN Foundation. She and her family spearheaded the park's development so her nephew, Camden, who has special needs, could play with other children.

Playgrounds are expected to last about 20 years, according to a report from Leathers and Associates, a firm that specializes in custom-designed outdoor play spaces.

CAMDEN's main beams were built of wood, and they now are deteriorating. Wooden decks are splintering, and some play features have broken.

Leathers rated some of the features, such as the wood decking, handrails and balusters, in fair to poor condition.

Organizers also would like to install rubber matting so they don't have to replace wood chips that are spread on the ground every year. The Fibar chips allow wheelchairs to roll easily but cost several thousand dollars.

The playground would be renovated with all new materials such as recycled structure and composite plastic found in new playgrounds, according to the architect's report.

Costs to restore the playground range from $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the scope of the project. The main structure, which includes the castle, likely will need replacing, Kuelz said.

The group spearheading the renovation plans to host community builds and solicit donations from businesses. It especially needs machinery that can reach into the playground and lift out the large poles.

More than 150 playgrounds around the world have been modeled after CAMDEN, including two in Holland and India, Kuelz said.

The majority of the equipment there is accessible, including the popular spring equipment, swings and even teeter-totters.

Adults with special needs also can navigate the area, either to bring their children or just to watch the children play.

Kuelz said she didn't think in a “thousand years” her family's efforts would turn into CAMDEN.

“We just wanted a place for my nephew to play,” she said.


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