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This post provides an overview of Council Bluffs community efforts to update and enhance a playground at Lake Manawa State Park with a focus on all-inclusive play and ADA compliance.

Revitalizing a Community Treasure

Council Bluffs, Iowa will soon be home to a new, all-inclusive playground featuring a variety of equipment geared toward different development levels and physical abilities. Through extensive community input and collaboration, the Council Bluff’s Dream Playground Reimagined project aims to revitalize a park originally built in August 1993.

“This unique project began 25 years ago and is entirely built and fundraised by the Council Bluff’s community,” shares Elizabeth Hunter, PE, of Snyder & Associates, Council Bluffs. “With a focus on expanding all-inclusive play opportunities and increasing playground safety, the Council Bluff’s community is coming together to give it a 21-st century update.”


Demolition of the Council Bluffs Dream Playground

Demolition of the original Council Bluffs Dream Playground on June 23, 2018.

Located in Lake Manawa State Park, the original playground structure was made primarily of wood, which has deteriorated over time creating safety hazards. A sand surface covering the majority of the playground and outdated equipment limited accessibility for individuals with mobility challenges. Recognizing the playground had exceeded its design life and fell short of meeting the community’s needs, plans to rebuild were announced in November 2016.

“Maintenance and repairs were no longer sufficient,” says Hunter. “Technology has changed drastically since the park was built. The materials and equipment we use today are more durable and easier to maintain. They’re also geared towards different age groups and physical abilities to encourage all-inclusive play.”

Supporting All-Inclusive Play & Social Equality

Slated for completion in late July or early August, the new playground will be 30 percent larger with a mix of rubber and wood fiber surfaces to expand accessibility and safety. Playground equipment and layout were chosen with three core age groups in mind:

  • Baby Play Area (0-2 years)
    Rubberized surfaces with accessible benches, conga drums, a shaded area, and more.
  • Pre-School Playground (2-5 years)
    Accessible ramps, bridges, swings, activity panels (abacus, alphabet, tick-tac-toe), a sandbox, and railroad jungle gym.
  • School-Age Playground (5-12 years)
    Accessible telescope, gymnastic and monkey bars, activity panels (maze, sign language, clock, braille, etc.), swings, instruments, see-saw, slides, a merry-go-round, and more.

Hunter notes the type of all-inclusive experiences fostered by parks such as the Dream Playground Reimagined is an essential component of social equality and community livability.

“All-inclusive play brings people together,” she states. “It allows us to break down the barriers and stigma that separate us. After all, we’re more alike than different and all-inclusive play brings that to light for children as well as adults.”

Local Children Guide Playground Design

Smooth, rubber surfaces increase safety and accessibility for people with mobility devices.

As the name implies, Council Bluff’s Dream Playground was inspired by the dreams and desires of children in the community. To “reimagine” the park, Council Bluffs turned to community youth once again in 2017 with over 1,700 children submitting drawings of their dream playground.

Inspired by the children’s drawings and the area’s rich history, the final design was created by Play by Design and presented to the public in April 2017. It honors important historical components such the Union Pacific Railroad and the Lewis & Clark trail, which guided early pioneers through the area. In addition, iconic, pointed rooftops of elevated structures on the original playground are being restored and reused as a way of paying homage to children that contributed to the project in 1993.

Leadership Council Bluffs Class 30 Champions Project Development

Council Bluff’s Dream Playground was made entirely possible through the generous support and assistance of community volunteers. Recognizing the renewed need for community participation, Class 30 of Leadership Council Bluffs adopted the Dream Playground Reimagined as its Community Trustee Project. With each member of the class serving on one of eight project committees, everyone is able to participate in a way that utilizes their personal and professional strengths.

“Each member of the class brings different strengths to the team,” says Hunter, member of Leadership Council Bluffs Class 30 and chair of the Dream Playground Reimagined Volunteer Committee.

As a team member, Hunter has helped spearhead one of the most critical components of the project, while utilizing her skills and experience as a civil engineer.

“As an engineer, I’ve been able to use my experience with project construction to help guide project development,” shares Hunter. “As chair, I get to help rally community support, which is a detail-oriented challenge requiring significant organization. I wanted to have an impact and this position allows me to use my strengths and expertise in a way that will positively impact the community long-term.”

Crucial Volunteer & Supply Needs

Rendering of children running around a playground.

At-grade equipment provides easy access for all users.

Construction of the new playground will occur in two phases regardless of the weather. The first phase occurs from July 13-15 with the second phase scheduled to follow the next weekend from July 24-29.

  • Phase I – Placement of playground posts and preliminary work to prepare playground equipment assembly.
  • Phase II – Complete assembly of playground equipment with surfacing and fence construction to follow before the park opens to the public in early August.

Volunteer recruitment and fundraising efforts are underway and the public is strongly encouraged to help in any way possible.

“We estimate about 2,800 volunteers will be needed to complete the project, and you don’t have to be handy with power tools to help,” she states. “We need people to help check-in volunteers, work the food tent, and walk materials back and forth. There’s an opportunity for everyone regardless of skill level.”

Playground construction will be set up in an assembly line format with specific tents for equipment, building, and assembly. A children’s activity tent will also be available to provide a safe, supervised place for children to play while their parents volunteer. Meals for volunteers will be provided at no cost, and a local radio station will be present during the build to provide live progress updates to the community.

Aside from volunteers, Hunter says miscellaneous materials are also needed.

“All the stuff we need to build the playground doesn’t come with the equipment,” explains Hunter. “So we set-up an online gift registry for things like screws, drill bits, and extra wood for saw horses. If you’re unable to volunteer your time, but would still like to contribute, donating supplies is a great way to help.”

As fundraising approaches the budgetary goal of $750,000, which includes a $100,000 endowment fund for future maintenance, Hunter says the outpouring of community support has been impressive and she looks forward to construction.

“We’ve received generous donations from local businesses and community members, and we’re waiting to hear back from some grants we applied for, so I’m really optimistic that we’ll meet our goal. My work is far from over, but everything is coming together and I’m excited to see this project through.”