ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Calvin Ball today celebrated the opening of Centennial Park North’s new Sensory-Friendly Play Experience playground. Inclusive amenities ready to be used include a lower overhead ladder, two expression swings, a Zero-G swing chair, a Merry-Go-All, a nonverbal communication board and musical instruments. Ball also announced the second phase of Park’s North side renovation, which includes a sensory trail, set to open next summer. Photos of the event can be found here.
This new addition to Centennial Park is a testament to our ongoing commitment to ensure our public spaces meet the needs of everyone in our community, of all ages and abilities. This playground was designed with principles of fairness, inclusion, independence, comfort, and safety, and we can’t wait to welcome families to enjoy this exceptional space.
Centennial Park North’s new Sensory-Friendly Play Experience playground is the first PlayCore National Demonstration Site in Howard County and was designed with PlayCore’s principles of fairness, inclusion, independence, comfort and safety.
“After we determined that the existing playground at Centennial Park North should be replaced instead of repaired, we began to consider how we could follow the standard set by the Laura’s Place playground at Blandair Regional Park,” said Acting Bureau Chief of Capital Projects, Parks Planning and Construction Bob Linz. “This Sensory-Friendly Play Experience will provide even more recreation opportunities for our park visitors and their families.”
In the second phase of the playground’s Sensory-Friendly Play Experience, sensory play
equipment pods will be designed in cooperation with a stakeholder planning group comprised of residents, parents of consumers, disability advocates and Recreation & Parks staff members. Construction on this phase is expected to begin in late spring and weather permitting, should be completed in summer 2022. Once complete, the area will also include a paved pathway and fence that encircles the playground and amenities.
The stakeholder planning group will include parents and residents Lisa Suggs, Marian Vessels, Colette Jackson and Philip Fedarko, in addition to The Hussman Foundation representative Beth Benevides and Howard County Autism Society (HCAS) Executive Director Melissa Rosenberg.
“On behalf of the Howard County Autism Society, I am honored to be here today to help open this inclusive playground in our county,” said HCAS Executive Director Melissa Rosenberg. “How appropriate that we are using this space through play with the youngest members of our community to introduce the values of inclusion, acceptance and kindness. These values will guide them throughout their lives to believe that of course, we have inclusive play spaces. Of course, we have inclusive workplaces. Of course, we have inclusive education. They won’t even give it a second thought.”
“When you build spaces like this that consider our children’s sensory needs, interests, and sensitivities, you’re making us feel welcome,” said Hussman Foundation representative Beth Benevides. “When you consider our communication styles and needs with these beautiful communication boards, you’re saying we want you to feel connected. When you build ramps and swings for wheelchairs, you’re saying we want you to access this playground and enjoy it! Simply put, our family feels embraced by actions such as this.”
Playground construction was performed by Cunningham Recreation, Play Structure Plus, HTI Contractors and Recreation & Parks construction staff. Contractors for the second phase of the Sensory-Friendly Play Experience have yet to be determined.
Centennial Park was established in 1987 with a vision to create an environment where anyone and everyone could visit to play, hike, boat and come together as a community. Visitors to the Park can enjoy walking, running or biking on a 2.6-mile paved pathway, boating or fishing on a 54-acre man-made lake, and playing recreational volleyball, basketball, tennis, racquetball and baseball/softball in designated areas throughout the park.
The new playground at Centennial is the latest in a series of improvements throughout Howard County to create more inclusive and accessible spaces for people of all abilities. Earlier this year, County Executive Ball opened Laura’s Place Playground at Blandair Regional Park in Columbia which follows a universal design to encourage children of all ability levels to play together, while accommodating cognitive, communicative, social/emotional and sensory disabilities. Last week, Ball cut the ribbon on another playground in Savage Park that featured inclusive elements like musical instruments and non-verbal communication boards. In addition to these new play structures, Howard County’s Robinson Nature Center now features “Sensory Sundays.” The center opens early for these events designed for families with kids, teens, and adults with sensory processing differences, autism spectrum disorder, or developmental disabilities. The center also provides sensory friendly accommodations upon request.
For more information on Centennial Park, visit www.howardcountymd.gov/recreation-parks/parks.