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Inclusive playground process begins in Clinton Township

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 23, 2019

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — A plan for an inclusive playground is officially in motion in Clinton Township.

The process technically kicked off at the end of October during a presentation made by AnnMarie Ottoy, community relations specialist for The Arc of Macomb County. Parks and Recreation Director Frank Pizzo, whose department has become devoted to inclusivity in its own programming in recent years, was also involved.

The Arc of Macomb County is part of a national nonprofit organization that began in 1953 and is headquartered in Washington D.C. There are numerous state and local chapters whose missions involve serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

State education statistics approximate that Michigan has about 207,341 individuals who require special education. That includes nearly 19,000 individuals in the Macomb Intermediate School District, and about 4,600 individuals in Clinton Township.

Clinton Township school districts serve about 20% of the county’s special education students, with Chippewa Valley Schools serving the most at about 2,000 students, followed by L’Anse Creuse Public Schools at nearly 1,350 students.

Ottoy, who is the mother of a child with disabilities, approached the township with the original idea.

“Inclusive playgrounds are becoming more and more mainstream across the country, so we saw this as an opportunity to serve our population in the township,” she said.

Currently, communities including Fraser, Shelby Township, Macomb Township and Warren are either in the planning stages of having inclusive parks or have parks that benefit the disabled community.

The initial stage of the planning process involves gaining attention, organizing and looking for community partners — be it elected officials, representatives from disability-based organizations, school representatives, and parents of children with disabilities.

On Dec. 9, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved to have Treasurer Paul Gieleghem and trustees Ken Pearl and Jenifer “Joie” West on the park committee — which likely will end with no less than seven members and no more than 13 members.

Pearl indicated his willingness to be part of the committee, touching upon his involvement with the prospect of bringing an inclusive splash pad to the township.

Gieleghem said different factors need to be considered as part of the process, involving elements for children, families and intergenerational play.

“It’s good for the social, emotional development of everybody within our community,” Gieleghem said.

Trustee Mike Keys said he is supportive of amenity enrichment and spreading them out, adding that resources should be developed on both ends of the township.

Pizzo said inclusivity has been at the center of everything his department does. As part of the township’s Master Plan the past decade, a recreational center and/or splash pad has topped the list as an amenity.

He is cognizant of how it took cities like Fraser years worth of grassroots fundraising efforts to make inclusive parks a reality. As a resident of the township for 46 years, he is optimistic about the vision of the board and the community moving forward.

If the township doesn’t work toward such amenities, he said the township is “not going to be a community people want to move into.”

“We’ll see how long it takes to raise (funds),” Pizzo said. “In the initial stages, you have to see what size (the project consists of) for financing and what it will entail. It’s an exciting opportunity for the community.”