Pictured is an aerial view of the Magical Bridge Foundation’s inclusive playground in Palo Alto. The new playground in the works in Morgan Hill will be similar in some ways, but the nonprofit developer says it will be unique to the local community.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors last week awarded a $2 million grant to the City of Morgan Hill to go toward the construction of an all-inclusive playground project that would cater to all the community’s children and grownups, including those who are disabled.

The county board created the All-Inclusive Playground Grant Program in 2017 to provide grants to local jurisdictions and nonprofits to build all-inclusive playgrounds within Santa Clara County. Playgrounds funded under the grant must be designed to address the needs of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, sensory challenges, visual and auditory Impairments, plus medically fragile individuals and those with cognitive, developmental, and physical disabilities.

The playground is expected to include synthetic turf with slides and a climbing wall, a tree house, sound play garden, water spray mister, swing zone, a climbing area, a community stage, and a quiet area for kids to take a break.

Santa Clara County District 1 Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who represents Morgan Hill, made the motion on the funding recommendation in support of the city’s grant application.

“Children of all abilities deserve a safe and fun place to play, which is why I am proud to report that I and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved $2 million for the Magical Bridge Playground in Morgan Hill,” Wasserman said in an email to the Times on Tuesday. “The playground is the result of the Morgan Hill community coming together to create a special place for children and families.”

The $2 million county grant will go a long way when it comes to paying for the project. Current costs to develop the inclusive playground are estimated at $5.2 million, according to city staff. This includes design, construction and payment to the Magical Bridge Foundation, a nonprofit that works to bring inclusive playgrounds to communities in the Bay Area. The group works with the city to support fundraising, marketing and promotion, grant writing and design expertise for the all-inclusive playground.

“We are thrilled with Morgan Hill’s enthusiasm to bring a Magical Bridge playground to its community and all who visit, and appreciate the strong leadership of Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman,” said Olenka Villarreal, co-founder of the Magical Bridge Foundation, which is based in Palo Alto. “While the City of Morgan Hill had allocated $2 million towards the playground, this community was counting on the vision of their district’s supervisor to vote on the full $2 million to help make the playground a reality,” Villarreal said. “By doing so last week, he is forever going to be celebrated here as ‘Magical Mike!’”

Accessible for everyone

Magical Bridge Foundation originally started as Villarreal’s personal quest to find a playground accessible for her daughter with special needs. She said that quickly evolved into an urgent need to create a new kind of community space for kids and adults of all abilities to enjoy.

“In short, a place so magical that it would bridge the gap between those with and without disabilities so families had a fun place for everyone to enjoy,” she said.

Villarreal and the Magical Bridge Foundation led the charge to create an all-inclusive playground in Palo Alto in 2015. A similar playground in Redwood City broke ground in November 2017 and is expected to open later this year.

The new Morgan Hill Inclusive Playground, when fully funded, will be constructed at the Community Park in southwest Morgan Hill, between West Edmundson and Cosmo avenues. Santa Clara-based Verde Designs Inc. handled the design concept, which Villarreal said used designs from the Palo Alto Magical Bridge playground.

“The design of the park pulls some elements from other inclusive playgrounds that have been found successful and integrates them with the ideas brought forward through the community outreach to create a design that will be unique to the Morgan Hill playground,” City Public Works Director Chris Ghione said.

The Magical Bridge Foundation has raised over $100,000 for the Morgan Hill all-inclusive playground since partnering with the city. Villarreal announced on Tuesday the foundation received a $10,000 donation toward the project from the Walmart Foundation.

“Magical Bridge Foundation will continue to help the city secure another $500,000 in order to break ground, and we welcome introductions to donors,” Villarreal said. “With Chris Ghione’s leadership, his city staff and Morgan Hill’s council members continue to be excited about this project. Once built, it will be a truly magical legacy for all to be proud of.”

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