Council approves purchase, installation of inclusive playground

Published 5:50 am Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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The Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved the purchase and installation of the equipment for the new All Together Albert Lea Inclusive Playground at Edgewater Park.

Installation will likely take place in August or September.

The action comes as representatives on the committee raising funds for the project presented they have raised about $970,000 of the $1.25 million needed for the project. That $970,000 figure includes a previously dedicated city contribution of $350,000.

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The grassroots group started raising money for the inclusive playground in fall 2021 after receiving the go-ahead from the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board and Albert Lea City Council to begin fundraising and in the months since has been writing grants, reaching out to businesses and individuals and hosting fundraisers to make the dream a reality.

An inclusive playground is an environment that allows everyone, regardless of ability, the opportunity to play and is not only designed with individuals with physical disabilities in mind, but also those with autism or sensory disorders, said committee member Kara Paulson.

Paulson said some of the highlights from the fundraisers the group has organized include the Let Inclusion Fly Kite Festival last summer, the Polar Plunge and chili cookoff at the Big Freeze, several bingo and bean bag events at the Moose Lodge, and the Rock Your Socks 3.21-mile walk, among others.

Committee member Sarah Stultz said service clubs have been vital to the success of the project, with the three Kiwanis clubs raising over $80,000 combined, the area Lions clubs raising almost $8,000, Rotarians giving over $5,000, the Moose Lodge raising $12,000 through numerous events and the Eagles Club allowing the committee to help with events and applying for $5,000 in grant funds.

The committee has raised over $135,000 in grants through the Freeborn County Communities Foundation, Albert B. Cuppage Foundation, Astrup Family Foundation, Worth County Development Authority, Hanson Family Foundation and Blue Zones Project.

Businesses and individuals have also stepped up big to support the project, whether it was a young girl who made bracelets and raised several hundred dollars by selling them, a small business that is donating all of its class fees from a period to go toward the park or many others who have shared their generosity, Stultz said.

All donors who give $1,000 and over will be recognized on a donor wall, and the group has also been selling bricks for $250.

Though the entire project cost has not yet been raised, the city has agreed to splitting the project into two phases, and Larson Contracting is also soliciting in-kind donations from various local contractors to reduce the amount of funds that need to be raised.

In the first phase will be the excavation of the land, purchase and installation of the equipment and pour-in-place surfacing, as well as sidewalk from the playground to the pavilion and lighting.

The second phase would include sewer and water for future restrooms and a parking lot.

The group after that hopes to raise additional funds for restrooms and a Miracle Field.

Third Ward Councilor Jason Howland said he thinks the park will be built in the perfect spot.

“It’s just amazing where we’ve come since the idea began,” he said, noting he would be willing to be in the dunk tank again this summer for the return of the kite festival.

Others thanked Paulson and Stultz for the committee’s work and dedication to the project.

“I think this is going to be a great addition to our community,” 4th Ward Councilor Sherri Rasmussen said.

She encouraged the community to continue to give as fundraising is not completed and challenged the other city councilors to support the project by buying a brick or two.

The action approved the $318,981 cost of playground equipment from Landscape Structures and $426,452 for the surface construction and equipment assembly from Flagship Recreation.

The Albert Lea Chamber Foundation, which is acting as the nonprofit fiscal agent for the playground group, will reimburse the city for any purchases made for the playground.

Donations will continue to be accepted at the Albert Lea Chamber Foundation, 132 N. Broadway.