The unveiling of the plans for the Friendswood UMC Neal McClaugherty Memorial Playground has finally arrived! In the developmental stages since May, the Friendswood UMC Task Force plan has been approved by the church leadership, trustees, and finance councils and is ready to be made a reality on the Friendswood UMC campus.
Named in memory of Neal McClaugherty, the son of Friendswood UMC members Larry and Kathy McClaugherty, Neal is well-remembered for his keen sense of humor and “triple-dimple smile.” The obstacles and limitations of being a nonverbal quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair for 27 years did not stop Neal from being a blessing to everyone who had the opportunity to be around him. Neal’s wheelchair now acts as a chariot, so to speak, racing for the need for more inclusive play opportunities for families with disabled children and adults.
“It doesn’t take much for a playground to be considered wheel-chair accessible,” says Susan Senter, Task Force chairman. “The Task Force has developed a playground plan that is more than wheel-chair accessible—it is truly ‘boundless.’ This means that the play areas can be freely-navigated and accessible from all sides, and there will be dozens of activities for children and adults of ALL abilities to enjoy while playing alongside each other.”
That desire for inclusive play, coupled with the need for a playground that the Bright Beginnings Preschool could incorporate into its recreational curriculum, is what helped the Task Force define the scope of the project. Bright Beginnings is making strides to meet the Texas Child Care Licensing Minimum Standards for state licensing. “Separate play areas that are specifically designed for different age groups will greatly ease scheduling difficulties,” says Jennifer White, director of Bright Beginnings. “With a limited amount of time in our school day and several classes in need of designated outdoor play time, creating a schedule that meets licensing’s standards is extremely challenging. A safe, age appropriate, and well built playground is not a luxury for our children. It is an essential element in a high quality early childhood program,” White adds.
After interviewing and obtaining bids from three leading commercial playground companies, the Task Force decided to move forward with plans from Total Recreation Products, Inc., a local company that represents GameTime play structures. “They really listened to our desires to have a boundless play system,” said Lee Ann Love, Friendswood UMC Children’s Education Director and Task Force member. “As we strive toward the goal of becoming a church of excellence for the good of His kingdom, we should also strive for excellence as we serve the needs of His youngest worshippers,” Love adds.
With that in mind, the leadership committees of Friendswood UMC have authorized the Task Force to move forward with a plan that addresses three areas of play, and will meet the needs of both the preschool and the church community. The church leadership has prayerfully considered every aspect of the project, while keeping every detail in mind, from the safety of the children to the maintenance of the play areas for years to come.
The largest of the three areas will be located alongside the Family Life Center building where the older playground was located prior to being removed due to not meeting the state’s standards. It will encompass approximately 1913 square feet and will have activities that are designed for children ages 2-12 of all abilities. Consisting of a color palette of dark green, yellow, red, and blue powder-coated painted metals and materials, this large ramped structure will incorporate two 15-foot canopies that will provide much-needed shade. The ramps that make up the structure will be ADA-width, meaning that they will be wide enough for two children in wheelchairs to access the activities at the same time, or an able-bodied person to walk alongside a wheel-chair bound child.
The second play area will be located outside of the Music Suite on a grassy area that is not designated for other future use. GameTime calls this structure the “Giggle Maker” and it will provide ADA-approved activities for children ages 2-5. The location of the GiggleMaker makes it usable by children attending the nursery given its proximity to restrooms and water fountains. The focal-point of this structure will undoubtedly be a 26-foot canopy that will provide shade for most of the play area.
The third area that the playground plan addresses is the semi-asphalted/concrete area outside of the FLC. At one time many years ago, this area was the driveway that circled around the back of what is now known as the administration building. Today, that area is uneven and unsafe for play activity, and it is also known as an area with drainage problems. To remedy the drainage issues and to leave a semi-hard surface area for trikes, balls, and ride-on toys, GameTime surfacing contractors have suggested using a product called “bonded shredded rubber” (BSR) to give a gentle slope and cover the surface, giving it a means of draining properly. If funding allows, this area is also slated to have a 26 x 30’ canopy installed that will shade much of the semi-hard surfaced area.
The BSR is the product that the Task Force has chosen as the surface for all three play areas because it provides a “bouncy step,” making the play surfaces much safer and enjoyable. The BSR also has a proven track record for retaining its porous structure and allowing water to flow through for proper drainage.
Fencing is an item that will need to be addressed as the playground project progresses. The area where the large ramped play structure and the semi-hard surface will be placed is currently surrounded by chain-link fencing. The area outside of the Music Suite where the GiggleMaker is slated to go will need to be encompassed by a four-foot high (minimum) fence in order to meet state requirements. The final plans for the fencing are yet to be determined.
As the project stands currently, the approximate cost of all three areas is $149,500, which includes $54,500 in discounts and grant money. This includes all materials, equipment rentals, installation, and freight. This figure does not include fencing and permitting fees. “The financial support for the project so far has been very impressive. We have been blessed with many wonderful fundraisers already: Run for the Son, the Pastor’s Golf Tournament, the Friendswood UMC Garage Sale, and the Friendswood UMC Craft Show,” says Love. “We have also received memorials in honor of Neal, as well as a generous donation made by the Bright Beginnings Preschool. We have some really unique fundraisers planned. With Task Force member Lindsey Foreman at the helm of fundraising, be looking for some fun opportunities to get involved in making this playground vision a reality,” Love adds.
The Task Force hopes that once the playground design is revealed, people will see that this plan will not only create a nurturing environment for play, but it will also provide opportunities for ministry that no other church in our area has been able to address. Senter says, “We have approximately $43,500 in the fund now, which is quite impressive since people have not even seen the plans for the playground. This number also does not include funds generated from sales of the popular Friendswood UMC cookbook, ‘Merry-go-round of Recipes,’” adding, “I really believe that people have embraced the idea of a boundless playground that provides unlimited opportunities for children to feel the warmth of God, just as we are called to love and serve Him: without bounds.”