Kenna Hermanson, 8, has a dream: Webster Dream Park.
Her vision is an all-inclusive, all-abilities playground where children can play together regardless of limitations.
"I'm doing it because when I'm at school, there is one disability swing, and that is not fair to them," Kenna told the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Committee on Thursday, Sept. 27. "So, that's why I am doing this. I want to play with them just as much as they want to play with me."
Discussion of the park started back in 2016 or 2017 with Mayor Bruce Hagen, said Kenna's mother, Kalee Hermanson. She said while the goal was to do something with the park in the 5700 blocks between Tower and Ogden avenues, there was uncertainty about what that would be, she said.
"Kenna had brought up an idea to me and our councilor, Dan Olson," Kalee said. "We thought it was a brilliant idea. Going around to the different parks, even at the elementary schools, we're noticing that there's very limited play options out there for children with disabilities, even sensory issues. I know that Northern Lights has a very small sensory area, but as I talk to some community members, they say they can only use it for a very small period of time, and when school is back in session, it's completely closed off to them. There are definitely swings around, but they are not very inclusive ... We found it was a huge need in Superior to be able to have all these kids playing together."
Webster Park was selected for the location because the playground equipment was last updated around 1994 and is noncompliant according to Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. The 3.27-acre park is also located on the Duluth Transit Authority bus line, making it more accessible to the community, Hermanson said.
After the city purchased a home in the southeast corner of the property, she said there really wasn't funding left in the Parks & Recreation budget to do more with Webster Park other than develop green space where the home once stood.
After garnering the support of Olson, Hermanson said they met with Mayor Jim Paine and Linda Cadotte, the city's director of parks, recreation and forestry. She said that meeting led to developing a comprehensive plan, and later working on a design for the park.
Hermanson said initially Kenna had wanted a fairytale-style tower, which proved to be non-inclusive, but that lead to discoveries of inclusive elements that could be integrated: a zipline with adaptive equipment, different sensory play options, swings on a new style frame and a merry-go-all, log balance beams, talking tree stumps, bongos, little forts and a playhouse.
She said the most time was spent talking about resilient surfacing, required under all play equipment, and came to the conclusion that poured-in-place rubber mats, while costly, would serve the city best in the long run, requires less maintenance and exceeds ADA requirements. She said incorporating the existing walkways in the park will ensure accessibility for all who use it.
"The cost of the pour-in-place, you look at it and you get sticker shock," Cadotte said. "It's the highest ranked in the safety factor ... it's in two parks, Wade Bowl and 18 Oaks." Cadotte estimated that its been in place five or six years.
And it holds up over time, according to Russ Billings of the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department: "18 Oakes is just starting to show wear ... and it's underneath swings, where it's really beaten."
Cadotte said in working on the plan, a lot of the equipment they looked at was also used in many other communities.
Hermanson said the total equipment cost for the park would be just under $197,000, but that does not include the sensory garden or surfacing. She said there are a number of options for building and funding the park - building it outright, or constructing it in phases. The plan includes fundraising and using city's capital improvement program (CIP) to pay for it.
Hermanson said she is looking into grants, but those opportunities require most of the funding to be in place first. She's also talked to Terri Kalan, an organizer of South End Days, about using the event in 2019 as the primary fundraiser for the park. She said a sponsorship platform has been developed, and she's talked to the Superior police and fire departments, and the University of Wisconsin-Superior about hosting fundraising events during their hockey games to raise money for the playground. Sponsors and donors will be recognized with a plaque in the park.
"We want this to be a public-private partnership, obviously," Olson said. As a business manager for Laborers Local 1091, he said the union would be willing to make in-kind contributions to the project.
"My goal on it is to get the corporate sponsors we all know," Olson said.
"I think what Kenna is doing here, she's kind of a trendsetter," said Councilor Craig Sutherland, a member of the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Commission. "When this is complete, it's going to happen in every park that doesn't have this. Good job, Kenna ... I think this will be awesome out there."
Sutherland offered to help in anyway he could to make the project a reality.
"I'm very impressed with what you've put together," said Keith Kern, council president and Parks, Recreation and Forestry Commission chairman.
He said as another committee has been working toward of a goal of developing a comprehensive outdoor recreation plan, this is one of the issues that has been surfacing to the top. He said he supports the plan "100 percent."
Olson said the goal is to have these types of parks developed citywide, so everyone can use them.
The Commission endorsed the plan and forwarded it to the city's Finance Committee to explore funding sources for implementation. Kern said he would like to see this move up to the top of the list of projects the City Council considers when it revises its CIP.
Olson said that with the City Council expected to modify its CIP in the near future, it might be a good time to move it forward.
"The more we get the message out that this is just a plain, good thing, the better off we're going to be. It will be accessible to everyone," Olson said.