One year ago this week, a record crowd came together for the Festival of Abilities at Oak Forest Park to celebrate the vision of an accessible playground. The idea was backed by donations from community businesses and families as well as funding from Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, the Houston City Council member for District C, and the Houston Parks & Recreation Department (HPARD).
Now, after the city council unanimously approved the $120,000 allocation from District C and the $150,000 gift from HPARD, construction will begin.
Elyssa Horvath, chair of the park revitalization, said the city funds will go toward the purchase of the playground equipment and the $500,000 that Friends of Oak Forest Park has raised will go towards design, construction, equipment and many new park amenities. Because of the generosity of the community, Horvath said many wish-list items will be possible for the park, including connecting the sidewalk on Oak Forest Drive to the playground.
“As things come up, people are still supporting the park,” said Horvath, who added that Judge Kelli Johnson recently donated lounge chairs for the nearby pool.
The existing playground is now closed until the unveiling of the accessible park, which is scheduled for the spring.
“(Potential) inclement weather days have been built into the schedule,” Horvath said.
The Houston Parks Board (HPB) serves as both the fiscal agent and project manager for the Oak Forest Park Revitalization project, which includes Phase I improvements to the tennis and basketball courts as well as new benches and two sets of dual-height water fountains with dog bowls.
The playground, which is the first of its kind in the Oak Forest community and the first neighborhood-initiated inclusive playground in the city’s park system, will feature accessible, shaded equipment and amenities like picnic tables, park benches, a large shade structure, an engraved paver path, a bike rack, landscape berm, toddler swing set and painted art tile installation.
HPB worked with the Friends of Oak Forest Park to support fundraising activities, manage donations and provide grant assistance. Once funds were raised, HPB managed the design and bidding phases with its prime consultant M2L Landscape Architecture. That led to the award of construction contracts to Landscape Art, Inc. and Lone Star Recreation.
HPB will continue to serve as project manager through the construction of the playground, seeing it through until the community celebrates the opening of the Playground for All Abilities.
Horvath will continue to be a liaison to the community.
“Elyssa Horvath and the Friends of Oak Forest Park have worked tirelessly for the past three years to bring this project to life,” said Beth White, president and CEO of Houston Parks Board. “HPB is excited for the construction phase to begin and witness the efforts of the Oak Forest Park community come to fruition.”