On Dec. 5, a new playground set was installed at the LaFayette Recreation Center.
This didn't sit well with LaFayette resident Hannah Funderburk. She has been raising money and awareness to bring an all-inclusive playground to Walker County since last summer. When she approached local government, she was told there was no money for her project.
In August, Funderburk discovered a park designated as a "Special Needs Park" behind the Walker County Civic Center in Rock Spring. The playground, built over 15 years ago, includes a raised platform that makes it inaccessible, its wheelchair swing is rusty and the other equipment deteriorating and the grounds are unmaintained.
Funderburk's 2-year-old son, Balian, who has spina bifida and hydrocephalus, first learned how to walk on his own at an inclusive playground in North Carolina, so this hit close to her heart.
Funderburk has been working with PlayCore, a Chattanooga-based playground equipment company, to completely redesign the park to make it accessible to children using wheelchairs and walkers and follow requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In mid-August, she presented her project to Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield, but he was clear from the start that the county would be unable to allocate money to the park.
So she turned to LaFayette Parks and Recreation Director Jason Shattuck. He informed her that the city could not offer money since the playground she wants to restore is located outside city limits.
"We respectfully told Ms. Funderburk this information many months ago, and have heard nothing from her about wanting to build an all-inclusive playground inside the city of LaFayette nor make enhancements to our current playground," reads an emailed press statement sent out on Dec. 20. "The city of LaFayette cannot fund public parks in Walker County, nor in any other municipality."
The new playground set behind the rec center was made possible by a $10,000 donation from LaFayette-based Roper Corporation, which also volunteered to clean up the area. The city allocated roughly $6,500 to the project at its Aug. 15 meeting.
In a follow-up interview, Elizabeth Wells, the city's director of economic and community development, said that while the community benefits from Funderburk's advocacy, the funding and staffing in rural communities are spread thin. To build a new park would take much more time and money than replacing the old equipment at the rec center, she explained.
"This is an amazing opportunity around the county to learn about accessibility. We just don't have a planning staff or funding," Wells said in a phone interview Dec. 20.
She also shared a letter from manufacturer Park and Play Structures that says the new set at the rec center follows all ADA standards to make it inclusive. Funderburk said the set's raised platforms still pose an issue.
"The city is discriminating against disabled individuals. I find it odd that they would exclude the disabled community like this," she said. "I'll continue to fundraise."
As of Dec. 24, she had raised about $3,250 of her $125,000 goal.
Email Sabrina Bodon at firstname.lastname@example.org.