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A young Black girl with white sandals and a pink bow in her hair swings on the accessible playground at Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park.

Spreading INclusivity: Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park Brings New Opportunities for Children and Adults in Floyd County

The Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Playground welcomes children of all ages and ability levels into a fully-inclusive play space.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published by the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority (IHCDA) in the summer 2022 issue of IHCDA...the Magazine. We are proud to partner with the IHCDA on the CreatINg Places program, building vibrant communities across the State of Indiana.

In 2015, Mindy McKnight noticed a problem. As a special education teacher for more than 20 years, she noticed a growing number of students with special needs in her classroom in New Albany, Indiana. She also knew that the number of students across her school district who had special physical, social, and learning needs was increasing.

The New Albany/Floyd County School District has approximately 11,524 students within sixteen different public schools. According to Michele Ferree, Director of Special Education at the district, there are around 2,700 special education students in the district—one fourth of the total student population. And yet, McKnight saw that throughout the county, very few places had a playground that provided students with special needs the opportunity to play with their peers.

“Our playground is not designed for children with disabilities, especially students with wheelchairs, walkers, and crutches. These students cannot play with other students! They are very limited to what they can do, so their friends go on and play without them,” McKnight said, when talking about the 65 students she and other teachers oversee at their elementary school in New Albany.

Kids run around the accessible playground at the Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park
Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park (photos courtesy of GameTime)

When Don Lopp, Floyd County Director of Operations and Planning, and Roger Jeffers, Floyd County Parks Superintendent, heard from McKnight that same year about her desire to see a new playground in New Albany, they might not have thought much of it at first. Between school playgrounds, recreational space, and community parks, more room for kids to play wasn’t necessarily the highest priority. But by the time McKnight shared her vision—and the startling number of underserved children in the community—both Lopp and Jeffers were not only on board, but captivated.

Jeffers and Lopp started a CreatINg Places campaign to make this dream a reality in the summer of 2021. With a goal of $50,000, the group set to work building community support, gaining local sponsorship, and spreading the vision of what an empty field at the Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park could be.

By the fundraising deadline, over $50,000 was crowdfunded with 271 community members contributing to the project, and IHCDA matched the fundraising goal dollar for dollar.

Seven years after McKnight, Lopp, and Jeffers envisioned the project, the New Albany community cut the ribbon on the Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Playground in May of 2022, welcoming children of all ages and ability levels into a fully-inclusive play space. Utilizing the seven principles of inclusive playground design—play that is fair, inclusive, smart, independent, safe, active, and comfortable—as well as a Playcore© National Demonstration Site Designation, the playground has wheelchair ramps, special swings, interactive sound and motion equipment, and plenty of room for children of any ability level to participate in all the fun.

“It’s for everybody,” Jeffers explained, when showing not only how a child can fly down a mini zipline in a harness, but also where parents and teachers can sit in the shade and watch.

The playground, which is a part of a complex of sports fields, community art, a splash pad and a covered pavilion for events, is so much more than just a place for children to have fun. While kids are in school, the playground can be utilized by organizations like Rauch, Inc. for adults with special needs to enjoy. Having a community gathering space where all children and adults can play together will not only inspire learning, but encourage participants to become advocates for inclusivity in other community spaces as well.

Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park grand opening
Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park (photos courtesy of GameTime)

Most of all, the new park has become a regional resource, where residents from Floyd and the surrounding counties can enjoy a day at the park and the opportunity to feel safe and included among new friends.