On Tuesday, Sep. 19, 2023, an all-new inclusive playground in Kingston moved a step closer to becoming a reality, as Kingston City Council voted to direct staff to work with community partners to support the project. The playground, which is likely to be located at Shannon Park in the city’s north end, would provide accessible equipment and inclusive features for children of all ability levels.
According to a staff report issued ahead of the meeting, the City was first approached by a community member in the spring of 2023 to examine the feasibility of adding an inclusive playground to a City-owned property. “A number of meetings have since occurred to support this initiative. The proponent is seeking community partnerships and intends to fundraise for the project,” the report noted.
During Tuesday’s meeting, councillors received a delegation from Sarah Ogilvie and Rachel Doornekamp of the Inclusive Play Project, who spoke of the need for such a playground in the city. According to the delegation, most playgrounds are not accessible for children with physical disabilities, making it difficult for those using mobility aids like wheelchairs and walkers to access the equipment.
However, while physical accessibility needs are a major concern, the delegates explained that in order to build a “fully inclusive playground,” staff would need to design a space that is also mindful of “sensory needs, safety issues, as well as vision/auditory needs.”
“An inclusive playground welcomes children and families of all abilities to play and grow together,” Ogilvie stated.
As for why the project is needed in Kingston, Ogilvie noted that while the City does have playgrounds with various accessible equipment, such as bucket swings and accessible pathways at the Memorial Centre and Lake Ontario Park, such features are not necessarily “usable” for everyone. The presentation noted that none of the playground structures in Kingston would meet the definition of “fully inclusive.”
Doornekamp then outlined her vision for what a fully inclusive playground could look like: “The entire [park] is rubberized, so if you use wheels you can access any part of this playground. The entire thing you can get to by a ramp. There’s lots of different sensory panels throughout as well, geared at kids with autism or other kids that might have those needs,” she said.
Doornekamp added, “If you’re a caregiver going to the park with your children, you can also access the entire playground. [There are] also some [other] inclusive features all throughout the park that kids who are able-bodied can use, so that everybody’s able to play alongside each other.”
Should the City of Kingston go on to build such a play structure, it would join municipalities like Tweed, Picton, Trenton, and Ottawa, who have supported similar projects in recent years.
“This is inclusive and not just accessible. When we talk about this project, yes, we want to build a park — but a big part of this, for us, is educating about inclusive play,” Doornekamp added.
In terms of the financial considerations of the project, the report noted the initial plans have an estimated cost of $1 million. “At this time, no City budget implications are known to staff. The proponent is expecting to raise adequate funding to largely or completely support the project,” staff wrote.
When it came time for questions, Countryside District Councillor Gary Oosterhof inquired about fundraising efforts, to which Doornekamp replied, “We are in the process. [City Treasurer] Desiree [Kennedy] is putting together a Canada Helps link for people to donate via e-transfer, which we are going to link on our website. And we are hoping after this meeting — once we are told about the approval — to launch that fundraising campaign. We’ve been working very hard behind the scenes to get that ready.”
As for the playground’s eventual location, Doornekamp noted the group has worked with City staff to identify Shannon Park in the Rideau Heights area as the preferred site.
“We have been given Shannon Park… [and] we’re excited about that for a couple of reasons. Number one, it’s one of the few parks that’s actually [in close proximity] to an accessible bathroom with an adult-sized change table and lift,” she said, explaining that such a feature was the “number one” request of those surveyed as part of the group’s outreach efforts.
Doornekamp also noted the park’s proximity to Highway 401 as a major advantage: “If people are coming into Kingston for an appointment from Brockville, or Belleville, or Gananoque… they have a spot where they can stop on their way home to play,” she said, as she also noted Shannon Park is located on a major Kingston Transit route.
As the report recommended Council direct staff to “continue working with community partners to support the building of a highly inclusive playground in a City-owned park,” Collins-Bayridge Councillor Lisa Osanic asked why Shannon Park isn’t specifically mentioned in the recommendation.
“It just says a ‘city-owned park,’ but the report talks about Shannon Park, and we heard tonight of all the benefits of Shannon Park,” the councillor observed.
Brad Joyce, Commissioner of Infrastructure, Transportation, and Emergency Services for the City, explained, “The reason it doesn’t [mention Shannon Park] is because this project is really in its incipient phase… We looked at sites, [and] we came up with possibly three sites. Shannon Park is at the top of the list, but… as we have more information, it may lead us to something a little bit different. We’re trying to keep that flexibility there so we’re not committing 100 per cent to Shannon Park,” he said.
Following Joyce’s comments, Councillor Osanic reiterated the need for such a space in the Rideau Heights area, noting that other parts of the city already have accessible play structures, including Rotary Park and Lake Ontario Park.
Once the status of Shannon Park was clarified, many councillors spoke in favour of the report. King’s Town representative Brandon Tozzo commended the work of the Inclusive Play Project. “They have really put together a giant team of people who are dedicated to this… I hope everybody approves this,” he said.
Councillor Gary Oosterhof, one of the project’s key supporters, remarked on the educational potential of an inclusive play structure.
“Really, what we’re talking about is education. We have a lot to learn here,” he said.
Councillors ended up voting unanimously to continue supporting the project. The report noted that a timeline for the project has yet to be determined. Staff are expected to continue working with the Inclusive Play Project team, and report back to Council with next steps at a later date.
Members of the public can view the full agenda from the meeting on the City of Kingston’s City Council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in full on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.