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Imagination at work

Krystle Wagner • Oct 6, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Post-It notes, wish lists, empathy maps and designs filled the walls at Mulligan’s Hollow Lodge on Thursday.

For the past two days, local children have been immersed in observing, researching and collaborating as they work to answer the driving question, “How might we reimagine the Imagination Station so it’s engaging for all?”

Through the Reimagine Project, students are reimagining and designing an inclusive play space where the Imagination Station currently exists.

Today, students will pitch their ideas to Leathers & Associates designers, who will take those ideas and develop the final design, which will be revealed at 6 p.m. tonight at the Tri-Cities Family YMCA.

The project is slated to cost about $500,000, which will be funded through donations and grants. More than 1,500 volunteers are expected to help the play space take shape during the building phase next fall.

On Wednesday, students visited play spaces around Ottawa County where they observed the types of equipment and themes used.

In the morning, students met with Grand Haven High School students selected to be the “accessibility experts” for the Reimagine Project.

GHHS students Mark Wright, Katie Rosales, Emerald Hoekwater, Jared Snyder, and Cal Coyne provided insight as to the challenges they face with the current Imagination Station and what they would like to see in a new play space.

As Jeff Troupe, a teacher of students with special needs at GHHS, addressed the group outside the Imagination Station, he spoke about the excitement.

“I can feel the joy,” he said. “This has been an amazing process.”

With their clipboards in hand, students walked the playground with GHHS students and asked questions about the challenges they face and what could be done to make improvements.

Rosales shared with students that the pebbles make it challenging for her wheelchair, but a rubber ground would be easier to navigate.

Wright told students that making stairs different colors than the rest of the ground would be helpful and allow him to more easily distinguish the different levels.

Wright also offered suggestions about swings of different heights for older and smaller children to use, and also suggested maybe incorporating pieces of equipment that would allow children to hide in and under if they like to play the game hide-and-seek.

Students also met with parents, businesses, occupational and recreational therapists, and physical education teachers. Students then spent the afternoon developing ideas and prototypes of inclusive play spaces.

One group planned to incorporate a lighthouse tower, tunnel, basketball court, dog park, tunnel and sensory pieces.

Holmes Elementary School fourth-grader Lila Smits explained the sensory pieces would be equipment with handles that people could turn to make it different colors.

Ensuring paths are wide for wheelchairs, a fenced in area, and a quiet space were some elements included in Mazie Warner’s group.

A Rosy Mound Elementary School fourth-grader, Warner said a new play space would offer a chance for all children to play.

Griffin Elementary School third-grader Avery Bocheff planned to incorporate pieces that would appeal to all abilities such as a ramp, zipline and sandbox.

Being part of the Reimagine Project is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, said Landon O’Donnell, a fourth-grader at Holmes Elementary School.

O’Donnell believes the project will encourage children to become engineers.

While students worked on play space prototypes, Joy Gaasch, president of the Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg Chamber of Commerce, admired their efforts.

She said it was amazing to see students’ enthusiasm, and she applauded the creative thinking and collaboration.

“It’s really exciting to see what they’re putting together,” she said.

Grand Haven S.T.E.M. teacher Andrew Ratke, who is overseeing the children’s committee for the Reimagine Project, has been impressed with students’ mindset, their engagement and thoughtfulness, he said.

Ratke said it wouldn’t be possible without the support of the district and Ottawa Area Immediate School District.

Although not all students will be involved in Design Days, they will have opportunities to be involved throughout the year.

Chris Streng, co-chair of the Reimagine Project, said one of his biggest takeaways is the power of children learning and working through the creative sequence.

“Give them something to impact, and sky’s the limit,” Streng said.

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