Lacy Park Sensory Playground redo seeking matching funds

Illustration submitted to Times Observer This image is a computer rendered prototype of the sensory playground project set to begin construction in the spring of 2020 at Lacy Park.

Every year, the City of Warren applies for a recreational grant. This year, that grant “went from a small project to a redo of Lacy Park,” according to Mike Holtz, city public works director.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) granted the city $265,000 to the Lacy Park Sensory Playground Project, but the money needs to be matched. Funding for this match has been found some in budget tax dollars, foundations willing to help, and donations made by individuals and organizations.

Adam Meneo, Rotary Club president, describes the fundraising endeavor of the project to be ” a big nut to crack.”

“We want to accomplish fundraising by getting the name and purpose out into the community and soliciting for the money instead of putting the burden on the city,” said Meneo.

Rotary Club of Warren — spearheading the project — has $125,000 left to fundraise in order to meet its $265,000 matching goal.

New amenities planned at Lacy — on the east end of Warren — include off-street ADA-compliant parking, ADA-compliant bathrooms, a new pavilion, and a connectivity path to all areas of the park for easy access.

The core of the project will be the playground equipment. What makes this new playground equipment so special is that it’s not just regular playground equipment. It is equipment designed to tailor children on the special needs spectrum.

The special equipment includes that of a tactical, auditory, and sensory nature; equipment able to be manipulated and felt.

The project includes a special type of swing specifically designed for those in a wheelchair.

“Instead of having to remove (the child) from the wheelchair and strap them into the swing, the wheelchair itself will be attached to the swing, which is easier on the parents or caretakers as well,” according to Meneo.

Project heads have already reached outside of Warren.

Meneo describes the Sensory Playground Project to be “a big need that is unfulfilled in this area with Warren having the second-highest rate of Autism in the state.”

This project is unique being the closest playground of its kind was recently built in the Pittsburgh area.

The Sensory Playground Project is set to begin construction in the spring of 2020. This project emphasizes the partnership between the Rotary Club, the City of Warren, and the Warren County Development Association (WCDA). It was first the Rotary Club’s idea to build a park of this nature, but members were not sure where they would put it. The city was already looking at updating Lacy Park, which serves a large part of East Side residents. So when the city was presented with the idea, “the project just really flowed together,” according to Holtz.

“The great thing (about the partnership between the city and the Rotary Club) is that the equipment will become property of the city. The city already has 22 parks, so we are very experienced in maintaining parks and the equipment will really be well taken care of and not ignored,” said Holtz.

The Barber National Institute, an organization committed to helping out those on the special needs spectrum, has also reached out to the project heads in order to offer their expertise and support.

The Rotary Club holds annual events and a portion of the proceeds have been allocated towards the Sensory Playground Project. A number of churches and social clubs have reached out to host baked sales and similar events, as well. There have been preliminary talks of hosting a fundraising event specifically for the project, but nothing has been set in stone yet.

The project will welcome volunteers to assist in different aspects of the project. Rotary would also appreciate any in-kind donations from individuals or organizations that can be sent to the WCDA at 308 Market St., Warren, PA 16365 with attention to the Sensory Playground. The WCDA will also be opening its 501C for those looking to make a more tax-incentive donation.

For more information on the project, visit the Rotary Club of Warren Facebook page, or the Lacy Park Multi-Sensory All Inclusive Playground page.