After years of planning and fundraising, an elementary school in Bartlett has reason to celebrate. Next week, school officials will dedicate their long-awaited playground that is handicapped accessible.
Nature Ridge Elementary School is one of two schools in Elgin Area School District U-46 with space dedicated to students with special needs, most of whom are wheelchair bound.
The children in the program come from Streamwood, Hanover Park, South Elgin and Elgin, as well as from Bartlett.
Nature Ridge has two classrooms inside the building to accommodate their needs, but up until now, nothing on the playground was accessible to many of them.
"On gorgeous days, they would literally be wheeled outside to the perimeter of the playground and have to watch other children play," says parent volunteer Bev Jaszczurowski of Bartlett. "It broke my heart."
Jaszczurowski is one of the motivated members of the school's Parent Teacher Organization who set out to raise more than $50,000 to build the new play equipment.
Through a variety of fundraisers, they were able to raise nearly $40,000 of the $56,000 needed. On a recent Saturday, they held a "community build," which drew 40 volunteers who helped construct the playground, including Bartlett Mayor Michael Kelly.
Families pitched in to provide water and snacks for workers, while Nicodino's Pizza Co. & Cafe in Bartlett served up lunch.
"Everyone is thrilled to be able to offer the opportunity for all students at Nature Ridge to have access to the playground," said another parent volunteer, Dana Weiby, also of Bartlett.
New features include four sensory panels that are placed on the perimeter of the playground so that children in wheelchairs can access them.
"We are still seeking more funding that will get more sensory panels into the middle of the playground area," Jaszczurowski says.
As part of Phase II, PTO members hope to put a type of surfacing under the playground equipment that would make it accessible to wheelchair-bound students. If all goes well, they expect to complete the next phase in the spring, they say.
On Friday, kindergarten students had playground training on the new equipment, learning all of the safety rules and ways in which it accommodates all of the students. It was their first time being on the new play area.
The formal dedication will take place at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, but in the meantime, the PTO welcomes donations to Phase II.
"The idea is to help everyone feel included and a part of the Nature Ridge Community," Jaszczurowski said, "and not just be left off to the side."
For more information, visit schools.u-46.org/index.pl?id=2247.