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Temple Terrace's biggest all-inclusive playground takes shape, thanks to partnership

TEMPLE TERRACE

To strangers, Allie Blain seems a typical 8-year-old. She's happy and carefree with lots of energy. She loves playing outdoors.

But her parents, Wally and Renee Blain, and big sister, Abbie, know that the playtime Allie enjoys can be dangerous.

In 2005 she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that inhibits her blood from clotting properly and can pose a serious risk with every scraped knee or nicked elbow.

Her condition motivated the couple in 2008 to start Clouds of Hope, a nonprofit fundraising organization that benefits children who have life-altering disorders.

For the past few years, their No. 1 priority has been to revamp playgrounds in Temple Terrace for children of all abilities.

Through various fundraisers, the Blains' organization contributed to the playground at the Omar K. Lightfoot Center at Whiteway Drive and 56th Street, which opened last year. The city revamped another playground, at Riverside Park on Riverhills Drive east of 56th Street. The play areas now include special equipment and other accommodations that make them safe for all children, including those with physical limitations.

But the biggest payoff to date for the Blains came this month when they witnessed the groundbreaking for the city's largest "all-inclusive" playground, at Riverhills Park, near the banks of the Hillsborough River and next to Riverhills Elementary School, at 405 Riverhills Drive.

The original playground equipment at the site, determined to be beyond salvaging, was recently demolished.

The new playground, scheduled for completion in March, was designed by Hardeman-Kempton & Associates in Tampa, with the assistance of the Blains and the Freedom Playground Foundation, a similar effort that has worked to create inclusive playgrounds in Tampa area.

Bucket-seat swing sets will have harnesses and back support for youngsters lacking muscle control. A wheelchair-accessible path will lead to a sandbox equipped with a seat in which a physically disabled child can comfortably play.

Interactive water features, a fitness component and several heavy-duty plastic musical instruments considered therapeutic for children with autism also will be among the playground's amenities.

"The key is to integrate children of all abilities," said Ted Kempton of Hardeman-Kempton & Associates.

Ground cover will be a wheelchair-accessible rubberized surface above a concrete foundation.

Funding for the $160,000 project is through the partnership of Clouds of Hope, the city of Temple Terrace, Hillsborough County and the Hillsborough County School District.

The county's $80,000 contribution is through its Community Development Block Grant program.

The school district will offer $32,000 because Riverhills Elementary students will also use the playground.

The city provided $33,000, and Clouds of Hope donated $15,000.

Then versus now

Longtime Temple Terrace resident James Chambers, the city's leisure services director, recalls his childhood days when little attention was given to protecting youngsters from harm on playgrounds, much less accommodating those with special needs.

But thanks, he said, to improved technology and the determination of people like the Blains, that mind-set is changing.

"The partnership is what's really neat about this project," said Chambers, who noted the design and bidding processes were coordinated by the city, which is responsible for maintaining the playground.

Renee Blain is equally pleased by how the separate entities joined forces to make it a reality.

"I don't think our family ever envisioned that our story would make such a large impact in the community," she said. "God has really answered our prayers."

The best thing, she said, is that there will be no limits on who is able to enjoy it.

"It's especially great for us because Allie and Abbie, 11, can now play together."

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Temple Terrace's biggest all-inclusive playground takes shape, thanks to partnership 01/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 3:30am]

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