After years of preparation and fundraising, organizers spearheading plans for the Sensory Playground Garden in Wheaton say they'll be ready to begin construction next month on the first phase of the $2.2 million project.
Organizers say they've raised more than $400,000 for the Play For All playground, which is part of what's expected to be a four-phase project at Danada South Park near the intersection of Naperville and Warrenville roads.
The playground is being designed to create a barrier-free, universally designed outdoor play-space that can be enjoyed by all children, regardless of disability or impairment.
A cooperative effort of Wheaton Park District, Kiwanis Club of Wheaton, Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, and the DuPage County Forest Preserve District, the garden and playground will cover roughly 37 acres when complete.
"The Play For All playground project that we have been working on for the past couple of years is quickly becoming a reality," park district Planning Director Robert Sperl said. "We've raised over $400,000 in funds and commitments and we have the permits in. So we're hoping to break ground by the end of September."
The first phase is scheduled to include a Play Along the Way path filled with interactive experiences for children, a central gathering space acting as a hub for the entire playground, a scent garden filled with flowers and herbs, a sound garden with assorted musical elements, and a playground specifically designed for young children.
"The playground is the biggest piece, so this first phase is specific to 2- to 5-year-olds and it has different features," Sperl said. The playground and surrounding area will be designed with students with special needs in mind.
Organizers still need to raise more than $1.8 million to complete the remaining phases of the project and the process could take years. A not-for-profit organization, called Play For All, has been put in place to assist in collecting donations.
Despite the financial challenge that lies ahead, Sandy Gbur, executive director of the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, said there is a "buzz" around the project that she hopes will inspire donations.
"Throughout this whole process, potential donors have told us 'That's nice. Get back to us when you have something going on,'" Gbur said. "Well, we've got something going on and it's extremely gratifying."
With two separate playgrounds, young children and older children will be able to play safely at the site, Sperl said.
Later phases will include a playground specifically for kids ages 5 through 12, an adventure area with climbing boulders and ropes, a water play area, an accessible tree house and baseball fields.
"While the focus has been on sensory issues and the autism spectrum, we are making sure everyone can get into and use this area," Sperl said. "It's an exciting time."