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A park for everyone

Albert Lea Tribune - 1/25/2019

Jan. 25--Group plans inclusive park for Albert Lea City Arena area

Plans for a new park in front of Albert Lea City Arena are coming into focus.

Organizers said the inclusive park is expected to include Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps, play equipment that is sensory appropriate and a padded floor, allowing people with wheelchairs and other physical disabilities to play in an inclusive environment.

"It's not just one or two pieces of equipment on the side of the playground that would be accessible to people with special needs," said organizer David Doppelhammer, "But actually designed throughout and integrated into the entire playground equipment so people with disabilities can play side by side and interact with each other throughout the entire park.

"That's really the concept that we're hoping to see come to fruition."

Doppelhammer said the area for the park, a grassy spot in between City Arena and the main parking lot, would result in removing part of the lot and shifting handicapped spaces. A chain link fence would be erected and is expected to create a buffer zone.

Basketball or volleyball courts or a sheet of ice are being considered for the area.

Organizer Melissa Doppelhammer noted there have been several unsuccessful movements to build a neighborhood park over the last 20 years. She said the closest park to the neighborhood is 1 1/2 miles away.

She noted significant traffic flows through the climate-controlled City Arena, and the park could be used for family gatherings.

Organizers have been in contact with Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rhonda Jordal to set up an account with the Chamber Foundation for donations and grants.

"The city has offered to pay for park equipment and wood chips," David Doppelhammer said. "The city would, however, install rubberized padding if the park committee was able to fundraise the additional cost of that padding."

Organizers hope to raise about $160,000 through grants, sponsorships and donations.

"Wood chips would not suffice to make the park truly inclusive, so raising money for the padding is critical," said organizer David Doppelhammer.

Organizers started the project in May and have proposed the idea to the Albert Lea Parks & Recreation Department Advisory Board. They have spoken with community residents, service clubs and organizations and had meetings with city leaders.

Melissa Doppelhammer said once organizers noted the playground was in the city's 2021 capital improvement plan, "that was that next step of making sure that we had the city on board with it, the community on board with it, and approval to move forward to get an account set up so that we can start receiving donations."

To her, the importance of the project expands beyond Albert Lea.

"We're a rural community, so we have a lot of other communities that come to Albert Lea, too, to use our facilities."

David Doppelhammer said the park promotes inclusiveness.

"We need to learn how to interact with people that are different than ourselves and realize that diversity is a good thing, and this is just one more step in that process of bringing the entire community together in an inclusive way," he said.

David and Melissa Doppelhammer noted the closest inclusive parks were in the south metro region and Red Wing when the process began. Since then, Owatonna has started a similar park.

Meadow Lane resident Belinda Krysan attended a Blandin leadership program with the Doppelhammers and spoke highly of the project, adding the park will help children with developmental disabilities.

"It would be a fantastic addition to Albert Lea," she said.

To Albert Lea resident Nate Jansen, "it would be an excellent addition to the arena."

"To have that location utilized, I think, is a perfect choice," he said.

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(c)2019 the Albert Lea Tribune (Albert Lea, Minn.)

Visit the Albert Lea Tribune (Albert Lea, Minn.) at www.albertleatribune.com

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