Alexander parents led push for a new playground so kids of all abilities can play together

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ALBANY, Ohio (WOUB) — A single access ramp surrounded by curbs. A one-user swing in a sea of mulch. That’s all there was for children with mobility issues at Alexander Elementary Schools’ playgrounds. 

Emma Wigal is an upcoming fourth grader at Alexander Elementary. Emma and other students with disabilities have been unable to use the school’s playgrounds due to these obstacles. 

Lisa Wigal, Emma’s mother, started to notice how the inability to play on the playground was starting to affect her. 

“She was coming home upset, you know. It was hard for her to sit on the sidelines,” Wigal said. 

Co-chair Annah Korpi goes through the playground instructions with some volunteers from Stump and Dailey Concrete
Annah Korpi (center), whose son uses a wheelchair, is one of the parents who led the drive to build a more accessible playground. [Shane Scalfaro | WOUB]

Wigal went to the assistant principal and began asking for grants to build a new playground. Little did she know, another mother was doing the same thing. 

Annah Korpi has a son who is in a wheelchair. She started to notice problems in a different way. 

“After so many times of seeing the playground spaces and realizing, wow, there’s mulch, there’s curbs, there’s steps,” Korpi said. “All that my son, who uses a wheelchair, will be able to do for the seven years he’s in this elementary school program will just be to go on their one special needs swing and that’s when I thought, maybe we could do something about that.” 

Korpi and Wigal were put on a board together and began working on plans for the new playground. After two years of work, the ground was finally broken last week.  

Volunteers from around the county lent their time and resources to the project. One of those volunteers is Tom Demko, owner of Demko Construction. 

Demko has a grown daughter with disabilities and wishes that she had an inclusive playground when she was growing up. 

Demko Construction volunteering their expertise by using an excavator
Demko Construction lent its resources to the project. Owner Tom Demko has a grown daughter with disabilities and wishes she had an inclusive playground while attending school. [Shane Scalfaro | WOUB]

“That’s the thing that intrigued me the most is getting all the kids together, instead of having handicapped singled out from the other kids. That to me I didn’t like,” Demko said. 

With all the volunteers hard at work, the project was almost complete after just one week of work with just a few things left before the prep began for rubber surfacing. 

One of which was Emma’s reaction. 

Emma rolled up the sidewalk to the playground. Her eyes opened wide and her first reaction was “Whoa! It’s so cool!” 

Her excitement could barely be contained. 

“I think that it’s really awesome. I’m just really excited to play on it!” Emma said. 

Which is a sight that Emma’s mom was more than happy to see. 

“She’s gonna be able to play next to her friends, the wheelchair is not gonna be something that’s gonna be in the way anymore,” Lisa Wigal said.  

With work on the first playground hitting its later stages, the impact is something both mothers know is on the horizon. 

“Now they will have shared spaces with people with disabilities and get to know them better,” Korpi said. 

“It goes for all of the other children as well that use mobility devices, that’s not gonna be an issue anymore,” Wigal said. “They can all be together.”