WORTHINGTON - A new all-inclusive playground could be on the way to Chautauqua Park after Worthington City Council members heard a presentation on the potential project during a work session Wednesday afternoon.

Brett Altergott, a senior project consultant with Flagship Recreation of St. Paul, spoke to council members for approximately 30 minutes on the many characteristics such a playground could have. Also on hand Wednesday were multiple representatives of Worthington’s Early Risers Kiwanis, which hopes to raise money for the project.

Worthington Public Works Director Todd Wietzema explained to council that Early Risers members had approached him about their hopes for a new playground.

“This is just the first step,” Wietzema told council members. “We’re looking for your approval of the process here. I’ll be sitting down with the Early Risers Kiwanis group and talking with them about what they can fundraise for.”

Altergott estimated the new playground would likely cost between $300,000 and $600,000, depending on the amenities chosen. During his presentation, he outlined in specific detail the various attributes an all-inclusive playground could include, describing inclusive play as a decades-old movement that originated with the American with Disabilities Act in the early 1990s.

“What we’re really trying to do is have places for everybody and not exclude anyone,” said Altergott, who showcased statistics that included 56.7 million people - or one in every five - have disabilities, including 6.5 million school age-children. Additionally, he said, 40 percent of grandparents now provide care for grandchildren, with 22 percent offering 20 or more hours of care per week.

Flagship Recreations partners with Landscape Structures Inc., a highly regarded manufacturer of play systems and equipment that are built internationally. Altergott said “an exclusive play board that has experts in the field” assists in design and considers multiple factors in each facility’s environment, utilization of various cognitive skills and available activities.

Wietzema noted that Chautauqua Park has been selected for the project for reasons that include its location, age, infrastructure and popularity. He added that the playground idea was brought before the city’s Parks and Recreation Board of Directors March 6, at which time it met with a unanimous recommendation.

The city currently has $33,000 per year for three years budgeted to replace the playground  in Chautauqua Park, it was noted Wednesday. It’s believed that, if the project continued to move forward, construction could begin in 2021.

Though no formal action was taken in the work session, no one spoke against the proposed project. Councilman Chad Cummings suggested that a new playground incorporate a once-discussed Harmony Park, a concept brought forward by a Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce committee that would integrate child-friendly instruments such as drums and xylophones. Meanwhile, council member Amy Ernst said she loved the project and thought “it would meet the needs of a lot of people,” but was curious if city staff could manage the workload - a concern City Administrator Steve Robinson said wasn’t necessary.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved a resolution appointing Marty Rickers, Jay Vargas, Zuby Jansen, Melissa Elsing, Glenn Thuringer, Alicia Jensen and Elwin Aggen to four year-terms on the city’s Charter Commission.
  • Agreed to keep moving forward on plans for development at the Biotechnology Advancement Center. Robinson explained that grant funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration has limitations he contends the city is not currently exceeding.

“My recommendation is that we keep on moving forward ... and let the EDA say we're out of compliance,” Robinson said.

“I beg to differ (with the EDA) in that we didn’t do exactly what we were told to,” councilman Alan Oberloh added. “I don’t think we are not compliant with what they are wishing.”

Plans for the BAC involve getting a “native incubator,” or local bioscience-related business, into the facility and thereby stimulating development of other similar businesses in the immediate area.