Watsonville and Capitola are going beyond state requirements to make local parks even more accommodating for children of all abilities. Both cities have major renovations slated at Ramsay and Jade Street Parks.
The cities plan on updating the two parks to have a “universal design.” Universal design takes several mobility issues into account, like a limited ability to step or bend, orthopedic impairment and other concerns affecting people of all ages with temporary or permanent disabilities.
An update to Ramsay Park in Watsonville has been in the works for several years. The city hopes to unveil the new playground, part of a larger renovation called the Ramsay Park Renaissance Project, in 2025.
Capitola officially began their fundraising on June 8 and plans to finalize the design for its new, universally designed park by the end of July.
Watsonville resident Oliver Potts, 12, spent much of his childhood unable to access playgrounds.
Although he could maneuver his wheelchair along the ADA-compliant trails from the parking lot to the play area, a carpet of wood chips or sand, common in playgrounds, blocked him from going further.
Oliver’s mom, Tricia Wiltshire, had a vision to build a place where kids like Oliver could play with their friends. That vision led to the creation of Chanticleer County Park, the first inclusive play area in Santa Cruz County. The playground opened in 2020 in the unincorporated Live Oak neighborhood.
The playground is designed for children of all levels of physical ability, encouraging them to break social barriers and play together. They often contain interactive and sensory components to foster neurological, social and emotional development.
All new parks must be ADA-compliant, but this doesn’t always address the needs of children with disabilities, says Wiltshire.
While universal access playgrounds are more expensive to build than ADA-compliant playgrounds, Wiltshire points out that twenty percent of the general population is disabled, including one in ten children.
Cities Take Action
“It’s always been a dream of mine to build an all-inclusive playground in South County,” says Watsonville Parks and Community Services Director Nick Calubaquib.
Plans for a massive renovation have been in the works since 2018 but were stalled by the pandemic. They include improvements to athletic areas and the community center and a nature preserve as well as an inclusive playground.
Calubaquib hopes to break ground on the park by the end of this year and complete the playground by 2025.
At the opposite end of the economic spectrum lies Jade Street Park, nestled in the jewel box neighborhood of Capitola. Its popularity and proximity to the Community Center and several schools makes it an ideal location for an inclusive playground, says Capitola councilmember Yvette Brooks.
Brooks says the current playground is outdated, citing the same wood chips that sidelined Oliver Potts.
The effect of universal access playground design on including children of all abilities is “pretty magical” says Brooks.
“This upgrade to our park benefits everybody of all ages and of all abilities,” Brooks says. “Our children need that opportunity and space to grow and learn about each other.”
Funding The Playgrounds
Through the process of creating L.E.O.’s Haven, Wiltshire and Roberts created a framework to work with the county in a public/private fundraising partnership that other cities can use.
According to Roberts, they raised the most money in the history of any fundraiser in the county—a staggering $2M.
Capitola had initially pledged $275,000 in September towards the Jade Street Accessible Park project.
On June 8, the city announced a partnership with Friends of Santa Cruz County Parks to raise the estimated $1M needed for the project, slated to complete in two years.
Watsonville will fund the Ramsay Park expansion with an impressive combination of city funding, state funding and federal COVID relief funding. The Ramsay Park proposal won a state competition, beating many other projects to receive $7M. In November, the city also passed a tax measure to fund renovations.
Roberts, Executive Director of County Park Friends, says every playground should be universally designed, but she would like to see the next one in unincorporated Pajaro Valley, which has the greatest need.
On June 8, Capitola announced the city’s partnership with County Park Friends for fundraising for Jade Street Park. That same day, the city’s Parks Department announced plans to bring a memorandum of understanding for the city council’s approval on July 27, including specific language establishing parameters of Universal Design and how it goes beyond ADA requirements.
As part of a naming campaign, the council will take public name suggestions until Aug. 31. The current plan is for a Friends’ led committee to choose the top three names from those submitted by the community and council will cast the deciding vote.
Verde Design presented preliminary results for the playground’s design after listening to the residents at community meetings, popup outreach events and surveys. Climbing, sliding and imagination play were popular activities among those surveyed, who also asked for a sensory garden, a pollinator path and more seating.
The design firm will present their final design, likely to have a marine and shoreline theme, on July 27.