Committee raising money for handicap-accessible playgroup equipment

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Grace LaPointe, a second-grader at W.G. Mallett School in Farmington, pulls herself in her wheelchair through playground equipment as student Michelle Parks prepares to use the equipment. A committee at the school is trying to raise funds to provide more playground options for all students. (Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal)

FARMINGTON — Second-grader Grace LaPointe reached above her head and grabbed the bars of playground equipment to pull herself through it in her wheelchair at W. G. Mallett School.

Behind her, fellow students used their arms to move through.

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The Wheel-Through Arcade that was recently installed enables children in wheelchairs to get arm exercise and can be used by all children, making it a real equalizer, Principal Tracy Williams said.

A Fun For All Committee is finding out how expensive equipment is as it tries to raise money to improve options.

The committee, which includes some Cascade Brook School staff, is focused on obtaining more universally accessible options for the playgrounds.

The goal, Williams said, is for all children — in wheelchairs, walkers and with other physical, motor, cognitive and/or visual impairments — to be able to enjoy “our playgrounds.”

The committee will host a concert by Rick Charette and The Bubblegum Band at 2 p.m. Nov. 12 at Bjorn Auditorium at Mt. Blue Campus on Seamon Road as a fundraiser. Tickets are $8 at the door until sold out.

Grace said she had looked through a playground book to see what equipment is available.

“I saw a really cool bridge and it has a door to go in it,” she said.

Another student in the school prekindergarten program, Adam Mattson of New Vineyard, will most likely use a wheelchair in the future. The 4-year-old’s right leg was severed and his left one seriously damaged on Oct. 23 in a front-end loader accident at his family’s gravel pit. He is in the Intensive Care Unit at Boston Children’s Hospital and having surgeries.

Pre-kindergartners use a separate fenced-in play area but will be in kindergarten next year and using the larger playground.

The committee started when a parent and grandparents asked for a meeting to talk about having more playground options for students who use wheelchairs to get around or have other challenges.

“This was a real eye-opener for me and I’m grateful for their questions,” Williams said. “It made me/us look at the playground from the perspective of a student with physical challenges.”

When the playground was designed, there was no student who was non-ambulatory and also cognitively able to articulate, “‘Hey — I’d like to have something to do! I’d like to play like other kids!'” she said.

“So while we’re struggling to catch up, I’m so glad that this came to the surface,” she said. “A student in a wheelchair might be out on the playground surrounded by friends and able to wheel around or be wheeled around, but spending a lot of time being an observer and not a participant.”

Accessible equipment and a paved walking path were in the construction plan for the new school. However, Williams learned when it was nearly finished in 2011 that the funds for those items were used elsewhere in the project.

The idea for the path was to go around the outer edge of the play field and create a measured walking distance for community members and students, and could be used with wheelchairs/walkers/strollers and other mobility aids, Williams said.

There is some tarred surface that can be used but it tends to put people in the path of running students, basketballs and games, she said.

“We also end up with a lot of bark on that area as it’s pretty challenging to keep it all contained around the structure,” she said.

A gazebo done by the Farmington Rotary Club will also be made accessible.

dperry@sunmediagroup.net

Rick Charette And The Bubblegum Band will perform at 2 p.m. Nov. 12 at Bjorn Auditorium at Mt. Blue Campus on Seamon Road in Farmington. Tickets are $8 at the door. 

Grace LaPointe, a second-grader at W.G. Mallett School in Farmington, gets a workout as she pulls herself in her wheelchair through a piece of playground equipment at the school. A committee at the school is trying to raise funds to provide more playground options for all students. (Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal)

First-grader Emma Childs uses the Wheel-Through Arcade at the W.G. Mallett School playground in Farmington. (Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal)

A committee is raising funds to get more handicap-accessible playground equipment for the W.G. Mallett School in Farmington. (Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal)

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