Play For All: Creating Accessible and Inclusive Playgrounds with CPA

Robbins Farm Playground in Arlington

Written by Chase Mack

After the Outdoor Recreation category of the Community Preservation Act was expanded in 2012, it meant that CPA communities had much greater opportunities to invest in local parks and playgrounds. One heartening trend has been an increase in the construction of playgrounds that are fully accessible for children of all ages and abilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a playground is considered “accessible” if it offers a range of play experiences for children of varying physical and cognitive abilities, accessible routes to those play areas, and safety considerations such as surfacing the material around playground equipment to prevent injuries or accidents.

When a CPA application for a playground reconstruction is received, the local Community Preservation Committee (CPC) can encourage applicants to not only consider the ADA compliance requirements, but to also incorporate inclusive designs and a broader spectrum of amenities for all. Below, we’ve highlighted just a few examples of some incredible playground projects that do just that - and in each of these communities, CPA is making a difference for local families in need of accessible and inclusive playgrounds for their children.

Adventures for Angels in PeabodyPeabody – Adventures for Angels

The city of Peabody proved to be ahead of the curve when they used CPA to help fund the Adventures for Angels playground in 2007. Until 2012, the Recreation category of CPA could only be used for the creation of entirely new playgrounds and park facilities - rehabilitation of existing playgrounds was prohibited. So the city used over $25,000 in CPA funding to create a brand new “Adventures for Angels” playground to serve the community.

Over the years, the Adventures for Angels project has been featured in several publications highlighting inclusive playgrounds, including BostonParents Paper. Peabody designed the playground to offer wheelchair accessible access to an elevated play structure, multiple handrails for children of all ages, and sensory slides. Additionally, the playspace provides a learning board that offers children and families with the opportunity to learn the Braille alphabet.

Holyoke – Miracle League Playground for All

Earlier this year, the city of Holyoke celebrated the opening of the Miracle League Playground for All, much to the delight of neighboring families. Spearheaded by the Miracle League of Western Massachusetts, this new accessible playground was the result of an eight-year fundraising campaign.  While the nonprofit’s mission is to provide more opportunities for children with physical and cognitive disabilities to participate in the sport of baseball, the group also recognized that there was a dearth of fully accessible playgrounds within the Holyoke-Chicopee region. Thanks to a Community Preservation Act grant of $350,000, as well as donations from the Holyoke Rotary Club, the project was fully funded and completed in 2023.

Miracle League Playground in HolyokeMayor Joshua Garcia emphasized the city's commitment to creating accessible and inclusive playgrounds for children of all abilities when he spoke at the city’s ribbon-cutting event for the playground:

“[This] outcome reflects the community working together to make sure there’s something for everybody.”

Children visiting the Miracle League playground can enjoy swinging, sliding, climbing, and exploring the new space together, with plenty of opportunities for accessible and inclusive play. Sensory play structures are incorporated into the design, and a bouncy rubber surface ensures that kids can tumble about without fear of injury. The playground also includes ramps for easy access, quiet zones designed for those with sensory sensitivities, and a sensory area filled with colors and sounds. And looking to the future, the city hopes to replicate the success of the Miracle League Playground by investing in other outdoor recreation spaces across different neighborhoods.

Springfield – Westminster Street Children’s Park

Westminster Street Children's Park in SpringfieldWestminster Street Children's Park in Springfield was for many years just a vacant lot - but thanks to a grassroots effort and CPA funding, the space was redeveloped into a fully accessible pocket park for the neighborhood.The McKnight Neighborhood Council led the efforts to transform a forgotten corner of their neighborhood into a place for families to gather, and for several years they built partnerships with other local organizations, securing in-kind donations of landscaping and construction assistance from businesses in the community. With a local CPA grant of over $260,000, as well as contributions from a Community Development Block Grant, the Westminster Street Children’s Park became a reality thanks to a groundswell of community support.

One of the project’s major partners was KABOOM!, whose mission is to work with communities to build equitable and inclusive playspaces. By donating thousands of dollars worth of playground equipment, the partnership allowed the Westminster Street Children’s Park to become Springfield’s very first accessible and inclusive playground. Some of the amenities that this “pocket park” sports includes accessible walkways, swingsets, and the installation of a high-backed “omni-spinner” that provides children of different abilities to enjoy sensory stimulation and interactive play.

During the public event celebrating the park’s opening, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno summarized what made this project so special, and so important:

“This collaboration between the city, the McKnight neighborhood, and committed private entities is another example of what can be accomplished when we all work together to further enhance our communities. The improvements made at this park will allow future generations of this neighborhood to enjoy this open space for years to come.”

Arlington – Robbins Farm Park

Looking ahead to the future, the town of Arlington has just started into a $2.1M renovation of Robbins Farm Park Playground - and what makes this CPA project especially exciting is that the planned renovations include the construction of the town’s very first playground to incorporate Universal Design principles. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, Universal Design is a new modern design standard that incorporates ADA requirements while also accommodating different methods of sensory stimulation, physical exercise, and access to nature. Some of the considerations that Universal Design incorporates includes: engaging multiple senses beyond visual to appeal to blind or low-vision children; different levels of risk across landforms and playspaces; landscaping that encourages unstructured play; ease of access and visual connectivity between playspaces; and opportunities for inter-generational play.

Because the Robbins Farm Park has served as a gathering place for the community for over a century, it’s fitting that the town’s local CPA program is what has allowed the playground to be re-imagined for the first time since it ws constructed in 2003. After Arlington’s Town Meeting approved of a CPA appropriation of $997,000 for the project in 2022, the town’s Park and Recreation Commission then held public meetings to allow residents to weigh in on the final design. The resulting plans for this impressive new playspace include multiple swingsets and slides, an “Adventure Shed” and “Tot Truck,” musical and sensory nodes, ample picnic spaces, and more. Construction began in the summer of 2023, and local families are eagerly awaiting the official re-opening of the park in 2024.

Robbins Farm Playground in Arlington