SYCAMORE — All schools have playgrounds, but South Prairie Elementary School in Sycamore has one made just a little bit smaller to keep knees unscathed and play time fun.
The playground, designed for both developmentally disabled children and small children 3 to 5 years old, has swings with locking mechanisms to hold children safely in the seats, a merry-go-round and a jungle gym with shorter and narrower steps to make for easier climbing.
“He really enjoys it,” said Kathy Sloniker, who takes her grandson to the park. Sloniker likes how the playground allows for her grandson, whom she babysits once a week, and his friends to stay safe. “There’s a gate so you don’t have to worry about them running off and it has a spongy surface. There are no wood chips.”
Sloniker, said her grandson, Walter, lights up when he goes to the inclusive playground, which sits behind the school at 820 Borden Ave. and is only 100 feet or so from the playground for larger children.
The project cost $160,000, said Mike Cullen, president of First Midwest Bank, and was an idea hatched by Marijo Schwartz, early development coordinator for South Prairie Elementary School.
Cullen said Schwartz has been working on the project and getting its necessary funding for the past five years.
Schwartz said the cost was well worth it and that Cullen was very generous with his time. The support of private and anonymous donors was greatly appreciated, she said, adding that Cullen and First Midwest Bank were instrumental.
“He introduced me to people from foundations in the community,” Schwartz said. “It’s all local money ... Mike and his bank started us off and we were able to raise funds through meeting with people and explaining the project,” she said.
Cullen said he got involved because he felt the project was incredibly worthy, especially to meet a need that serves the population and its developmentally delayed children.
“There’s a lot of people in our community who have this need,” he said.
Cullen said the children who needed the playground, without the proper equipment that it now provides, didn’t have the chance to develop as well as the other children.
“The research shows the children who play develop further in life,” he said.
Sloniker said Walter gets to socialize at the playground.
“He meets friends out there,” she said. “Once they hit the playground, they’re all friends. It’s fun to watch him play with the other kids.”