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Inclusive play equipment, sensory wall, mark $4.3 million remodel to Southwest Portland park

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Gary Datka (left) a project manager with Portland Parks & Recreation, meets with members of the city's Parks Accessibility Advisory Committee Thursday, May 12 at the newly remodeled Gabriel Park.After nearly a year of being closed to the public, the playground at Gabriel Park reopens Saturday, May 14 following extensive renovations.

Thanks to a 2014 Portland Parks Replacement bond, Gabriel Park now boasts new playground equipment, new sidewalks and a host of special features that transformed Southwest Portland's beloved city park into an inclusive, multi-faceted 10,000-square-foot play area that's tripled in size over its previous layout.

It's all part of a $4.3 million remodel that makes the massive Hillsdale Park one of the city's "destination parks."

"The big thing we're trying to do out here is challenge all users at their highest ability level," said Gary Datka, capital project manager with Portland Parks & Recreation. "What we're really trying to do is make sure people who use wheels can come through and feel accommodated without feeling in the way."

The park at Southwest 37th Avenue and Vermont Street features several adaptive and inclusive pieces of equipment, accessible to people in wheelchairs or mobility devices. Pathways at the playground were widened to five feet, allowing two wheelchairs to cross at once and several areas have been rebuilt to accommodate users with disabilities.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A bridge connects a dome-shaped play area atop a tube slide at Gabriel Park. It's a central feature of a new playground that clocks in at more than 10,000 square feet, more than triple the size of the previous play area.The playground's central feature, a modern, rocket-inspired dome atop a tube slide, is one of two accessible slides at the park. The tube slide area features a climbing net and connecting bridge that allows wheelchair users to enter and exit to the side with roll-up access. Nearby, a sensory wall features built-in spinners with lights and music features.

Gabriel Park's playground also includes a new merry-go-round that is more accessible, as well as swings for visitors with varying physical abilities and various climbing features and rubber mounds.

The westside park also includes a communication board with pictures and commonly used words and phrases in both English and Spanish, as well as an American Sign Language alphabet, geared toward users who are non-verbal or have difficulty communicating.

"This is a big feat for Portland Parks," Datka said, noting a big push the city made in 2012 to make its parks more accessible. "

While planning for the renovations, the city consulted its project accessibility advisory committee.

Fern Wilgus serves on the committee. Wilgus said in addition to considering users with adaptive and mobility devices, it's important to consider parks users of all ages and cognitive abilities. PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Fern Wilgus, a member of Portlands Parks Accessibility Advisory Committee, talks about the features in a newly remodeled Gabriel Park play area.

"Accessibility is from youth clear through to the end of life," Wilgus said Thursday, May 12, just two days before the park's public reopening. "It's not just visual or physical, but also cognitive."

The accessibility advisory committee considers the needs of residents with brain injuries, dementia and other neurological conditions that impact the way they respond to physical environments.

Things like uneven surfaces or obscured signage can create fear or panic.

While Gabriel Park still retains its signature slopes and hills, new concrete pathways aim to provide greater access to the playground area.

On the other side of the massive park, the skate park and off-leash dog area remain intact.

"Inclusive playgrounds are a crucial part of building a sustainable Portland Parks & Recreation," Portland Parks Commissioner Carmen Rubio said in a news release about the project. "No child should be deprived a rich play experience, addressing physical, sensory, and social needs, just because a playground was inaccessible. The Gabriel Park play area is inspiring, beautiful, functional, and key move towards equity and inclusion in our growing parks system."

The Gabriel Park remodel marks the 10th playground overhaul funded by the 2014 parks bond.

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