After much dreaming, planning and fundraising, the first neighborhood-initiated inclusive playground in Houston’s park system is that much closer to reality, with noticeable progress happening each week.
Work began in earnest in October on the project, which has a total of $830,000 in funding. That includes support from private donations raised by the Friends of Oak Forest Park, a local group chaired by Oak Forest resident Elyssa Horvath, as well as substantial City of Houston allocations.
Once the majority of funds were raised, the Houston Parks Board managed the design and bidding phases and awarded construction contracts to Landscape Art, Inc. and Lone Star Recreation.
The crew has been busy pouring concrete, installing equipment and setting poles for the shade structure coming this spring. Soon the swings and bucket seats for Landscape Structures’ We-Saw, an accessible take on the traditional see-saw, will be set up.
March will also see the installation of more than 900 art tiles, which have been painted since 2016 by community members at area painting parties as part of the Nina Lee and Harold P. Hill art installation.
Last November, the sidewalk on Oak Forest Drive was connected to the existing park path. The “Pathway to Play” will be a new path of engraved pavers near the pool building leading to the accessible playground. These, in addition to a bike rack and new benches and tables will be installed in April.
The playground will open this spring.
“We originally hoped for March completion, but due to the long lead time for custom paver production, Landscape Art anticipates substantial completion by the end of April and opening to the public by early May,” Horvath said. “They have been so professional to work with and hold weekly meetings on site to keep the project moving forward.”
Other smaller projects include the procurement of lounge chairs for the nearby pool, which were donated by Judge Kelli Johnson and Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty. The chairs are in and will be ready for the pool season opener Memorial Day weekend.
Phase I developments of Oak Forest Park brought improvements to the tennis and basketball courts as well as new benches and two sets of dual-height water fountains with dog bowls.
The visible progress of the playground is generating renewed excitement in the project, which has been in the planning and fundraising phase for four years.
Chad Stevens, an Oak Forest dad who lives close to the park, said, “As a special needs parent, it’s amazing to be part of a project to help bring an accessible play structure to our neighborhood. We are very happy to have a place for our daughter, Olivia, to be able to play on the same equipment as any other child. We hope that the new playground provides children and adults of all abilities with decades of enjoyment.”
Horvath said the project could not have been accomplished without mass community-wide support.
“The Friends of Oak Forest Park is 100 percent volunteer driven,” Horvath said. “This was our first rodeo in terms of wrangling so many moving parts and pieces and raising over $550,000 to build our community’s first inclusive playground.”