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Barrie park revamped with new inclusive, accessible playground

Christmas came early in Barrie as a rare new inclusive and accessible playground was added to the revamping of Painswick Park.

"Having an all-inclusive park raises the conversation to ensure that everyone is aware that accommodation for people of all abilities, of all ages is important in our communities," said Hellaina Rothenburg, program consultant for Special Olympics Ontario.

The $2 million, 21,000 square foot playground is courtesy of the Canadian Tire Jumpstart charity.

The Barrie park is one of three locations in Canada to receive a specialized playground in 2023, and it will be bigger than any of the 15 they've built across the country to date.

It offers many unique and subtle features, including the debut of a swing system that kids needing wheelchairs can use without supervision.

Many details have been considered, revised and added based on new information and feedback received in the five years since Canadian Tire launched this program.

"The colour of the surface to make sure that children with low vision or no vision are able to contrast between different types of balls and the surfacing. Plus continuous surfacing that allows mobility to be enhanced," said Jumpstart Charities President Marco DiBuono.

Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall knows first-hand the difference this park will make. His mother was hit by a car when he was 10, leaving her disabled.

"There's a lot of barriers associated with that, and so just the families and the children, and the friends of the children, and the new friends that are going to be made - I think it's going to be life-changing for a lot of kids," said Nuttall.

Special Olympics Ontario believes this playground could provide significant long-term benefits.

"It could help kids to develop some of the foundational skills that will eventually help them later in life. In sport, things like agility and balance that they may not be able to access at a traditional playground," said Rothenburg.

Canadian Tire says since its first playground was built in 2018, families have found them to be a source of independence.

"They felt that as parents, they could let their kids go without having to supervise them as intently as they did before because their kids were able to navigate all these different spaces now where they may not have been able to before," explained DiBuono.

The hope is that with the facelift and new additions, Painswick Park can become a staple social space for Ward 9 and south Barrie.

"I think this is modernizing what already exists there in terms of a hub for the community and hopefully enhancing it and moving it forward for the many years to come", said Nuttall.

The mayor says city council will continue to focus on delivering more accessibility in the community, adding they want to ensure that people can participate and enjoy the city regardless of their disabilities.

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