New playground equipment coming to Vandalia’s Helke Park, Sports Complex

City making $700K investment, will make playgrounds more accessible

VANDALIA — Two Vandalia parks are set to receive a $700,000 facelift next spring.

Improvements will be made in spring 2023 to playgrounds at Helke Park and at the Sports Complex and will include Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible equipment.

According to city officials, costs for upgrades will total $375,000 at the Sports Complex and $325,000 at Helke Park. The city has allocated $225,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds for each park, as well as $150,000 in Capital Improvement Project funds for the Sports Complex, and $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for Helke Park.

“These parks probably have the largest playground equipment of all our parks and are the two that are used the most,” said city spokesman Rich Hopkins. “Plus, the Sports Complex has events throughout the course of the year, so parents love being able to take their older son to soccer practice while a little sister plays on the playground, so it works out well.”

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Hopkins said one of the most important aspects of the upgrades is inclusivity, noting that the city has sought input from the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities and the Miami Valley Down Syndrome Association, as well as Vandalia-Butler Schools about how children of all abilities can enjoy the parks.

“One of the worst things is when you have a child who may have a disability and they come to this cool, new playground only to realize they can’t use the equipment,” he said. “It’s just a bummer, so we’re really trying hard to make this something that’s more inclusive, so that all kids get a chance to enjoy it.”

The playground equipment at both parks is more than 20 years old, Hopkins said. Helke Park includes two area of equipment, one which was installed in 1996 and the other in 2000. Equipment at the Sports Complex dates back to 1992.

“We’ve certainly gotten our money’s worth out of this equipment,” Hopkins said. “We’ve taken good care of the parks, but it’s definitely time for a change.”

Hopkins said specific details are still being hashed out, but the new installations will include some typical playground equipment (slides, climbing structures, swings), with a major focus on accessibility.

“It’s not one-size-fits-all, so it’s going through a preliminary planning process to figure out what works best at each playground, how things will flow, and details like that,” Hopkins said.

In March of this year, the city launched a new master plan initiative for its Parks and Recreation Department.

City Manager Dan Wendt said at the time that the master plan process will be thorough, involving the collection of information from parks staff, city residents who are parks users, school officials and businesses.

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“I think that will be vital because we’ve got a number of what we call pocket parks, in smaller parts of neighborhoods, that at this point in time are pretty much just green space with park benches, so we’ve had some people in the community ask us to develop those more, or to put playground equipment or some sort of activity in these parks,” said Parks and Recreation Director Steve Clark. “And, in our larger parks, it will allow the community to come in to tell us what they would like to see, in terms of the maintenance level, what we need to bring up-to-date, and anything new they would like to see or recommend.”

The city approved a $100,000 agreement with PROS Consulting to help lead the master plan process and provide clear objectives to city officials and the parks advisory board. The consulting firm will incorporate community input into the plan, which is set to be finalized at the end of this year.

“The master parks plan is part of a broader (10-year) plan for our Parks and Recreation Department and its relationship to the community as a whole,” Hopkins said.

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