Q&A with Will Hemler, Playground Consultant
For over two decades at General Recreation, Will Hemler has been at the forefront in accessible playground design. He has helped develop a number of inclusive playgrounds, most recently Black Rock Park in Upper Providence Township, Phoenixville, PA.
Q. Is this your first playground project with Upper Providence Township?
I worked with the Township in 2001 on their first skatepark, and since then several playgrounds, an amphitheater, comfort stations (restrooms), pavilions, fabric shade structures and site furnishings. Sue Hoffman, Director of Parks and Recreation, brought the idea of a state-of-the-art inclusive playground to the table in 2019.
Over time, the project expanded in size and scope, along with assessing a different location along the way. It’s quite an evolution from where it started and what it’s become! The playground opened in July 2022 and has been embraced by the community.
Q. What was the overall goal of the project?
The Township’s initial goal was to re-develop an older play area and create an inclusive playground. As their goals developed, they wanted to make space for the most up-to-date structure offerings, resulting in an all-inclusive play experience for children, teens and adults of all abilities.
Now at 16,502-square feet, the playground provides a myriad of play options for children with different sensory and mobility needs. The elements were hand-picked by Sue and her team. I fine-tuned and designed them to work together.
There’s a mix of tactile, movement, climbing, visual and auditory experiences, including ziplines, fitness equipment, adaptive and multi-user swings, a roller slide, a 12-foot climbing belt tower, spinners, a We-Go-Round (a wheelchair accessible merry-go-round) and a Ninja Warrior Fitness Course. Many of the play features also allow for parallel play, where children of different abilities can play and interact side by side.
Surfacing was also an important component to ensure accessibility and safety. The Poured-in-Place rubber surface provides seamless transitions for mobility devices and strollers. Engineered wood fiber surfacing was installed under the Ninja Warrior fitness area to create a truer, but still safe extreme fitness experience.
Q. Were there any challenges to overcome with the ultimate site location?
The decision to repurpose an existing baseball field was a great idea – with plenty of open space for the playground and managing the build-out! The large area did require their engineer to develop a drainage plan for the site. The Township’s Public Works and Recreation Department executed on the drainage plan as well as the playground installation. My crew was there to assist and provide technical assistance over the six-week install.
In addition, with open space means a critical need for shade, which we integrated into the play structures, along with standalone structures with seating.
Q. You’ve worked with the Township for a long time. How has that relationship evolved?
The Township has always been forward-thinking on creating play “firsts” for their community. From their first skatepark in 2001 and now to Black Rock Park. It’s amazing to work with Sue and her team. They’re very focused on creating something next level. Sue especially loves to visit other playgrounds and has a lot of insight on what works and doesn’t work from her experience. This really helps us to dial in the best components, while eliminating redundancies and maintaining the high level of play experiences available.
To learn more about designing and developing an inclusive playground for your organization or community, contact your local General Recreation Playground Consultant at 800-726-4793 or email@example.com.