LAND students create designs for park to serve special needs kids

Eric Bardenhagen

Eric Bardenhagen

Design concepts for a special needs childrens’ park, developed by undergraduate landscape architecture students at Texas A&M, are part of a park proposal unanimously approved April 24 by the College Station City Council.

The two-acre design for Beachy Central Park, which would be the first play area of its kind in the Brazos Valley, was created by students in a fall 2013 studio led by Eric Bardenhagen, assistant professor of landscape architecture, and Ken Hurst, an Urban and Regional Science Ph.D student.

"I was in the school district for over 20 years and I saw kids every day that were not able to play like other kids, and so when this came up in our club, I got real excited," said Danny Stribling, a member of the College Station Noon Lions Club, which in tandem with the College Station Rotary Club, is expected to lead fundraising efforts for the $2 million project.

Rotary Club member Ward Wells, dean of the College of Architecture, connected Rotarians, Lions and the city of College Station with the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning after learning about the project during a Rotary Club meeting.

The plans, developed by 18 students in six teams, examined three possible playground sites within existing College Station parks.

The concepts included nature areas and trails with a variety of surfaces — from paved to boardwalk to mulch — to vary the sensory experiences of park users.

Water areas with splash pads, play areas with jungle, mountain and other creative play themes were incorporated into several design concepts.

The concepts included art areas with hands-on water and sand play, including one witih thick putty that can be twisted and molded into different shapes.

Multipurpose stage areas, pavilions and open recreation lawns were also included to enhance the flexibility of the park for community events and use by special needs educators and caregivers.

“Students were asked to research child development and the importance of play, ranges of disabilities, playground safety and case studies of existing special needs playgrounds and include their findings in their designs,” said Bardenhagen.

David Schmitz, director of parks and recreation for the city of College Station, said students working on the project specifically considered a variety of special needs.

“Everything from kids that are paraplegic, quadriplegic, have autism, Down Syndrome, you name it, we’re trying to be all-inclusive for this facility,” Schmitz said. “One of the things that’s so unique about this is that even though this is designed for these specific things, siblings, friends, parents can all enjoy this park also.”

Working with representatives from College Station Parks and Recreation, students identified a two-acre site at Central Park for the playground, dubbed “The Great Escape at Central Park,” as the best location due to ease of access, existing amenities, available space and parkland funds.

posted April 29, 2014