A ribbon cutting today at Newark’s Reservoir Park marked the grand opening of the state’s first 100% all-inclusive playground, which allows kids to play together regardless of ability. Large sun shades cover much of the equipment on the 8,400-foot playground off Old Paper Mill Road.
After today’s opening ceremony, dozens of kids dashed to swings, slides, rock walls, tunnels, zip lines, and steering wheels and telescopes for imaginative play. The wheelchair accessible Rock ’N Wave boat happens to be Preston’s favorite activity at the new playground. But he can also enjoy the Made-for-Me ADA-accessible swings and belted swings and many other activities.
The park carries the name of Preston Buenaga, a 20-year-old from Wilmington with mitochondrial disease who has touched the hearts of thousands. Many who helped fundraise for the last three years were so excited to be a part of today’s opening.
Preston’s Mom Deb Buenaga, herself an avid runner, said the premise was really simple – to allow anyone to enjoy the freedom of playing on a playground. Her son’s disease leaves him with low muscle tone and developmental delays, and playgrounds have always been challenging to him.
Buenaga teamed up with Fusion owner Nic DeClaire to bring a state-of-the-art playground to Newark where kids and adults dependent upon wheelchairs and other devices can traverse the entire playground area and play with people of all abilities. According to Buenaga, North Wilmington’s Can Do Playground, also designed for people with varying physical and cognitive ability, is about 60% all-inclusive, with 40% of the flooring covered in mulch.
“Everyone deserves a chance to play,” said Buenaga. “Preston is now going to be able to take his chair and play with all of you. I am truly so excited for this day,” she said.
Employing a theme of rippling water generated by care-free kids tossing stones, DeClaire said, “Preston’s Playground is part of a ripple that started many years ago when we opened Fusion Fitness Center.” In 2011, DeClaire was introduced to Buenaga, who chaired the Preston’s March for Energy foundation, and the pair set out on a journey to hold a number of Inclusion Means Everyone 5K‘s to raise funds to provide access to adaptive bikes for kids like Preston all around the country. Preston’s March for Energy has provided more than 100 bikes for children around the country.
With a little extra money after their most recent 5K fundraiser, DeClaire half-jokingly asked Buenaga if she wanted to build a playground. “She was crazy enough to say yes,” said DeClaire.
“Three years later, over a half a million dollars raised, countless volunteer hours and lots of incredible support from the community, we have built one of the coolest playgrounds this state has ever seen,” he remarked.
The playground itself cost about $350,000, and $100,000 is needed for bathrooms, which are already in the design phase. The surface includes eight inches of rubberized material. The thick, and bouncy surface is typically suggested for areas where someone might fall from a higher level. But, Buenaga said it was important to her to have the same level of quality in the flooring throughout the entire playground, which did drive up costs a bit. The playground was designed by PlayCore in Tennesee, which has a specially designed inclusion program.
While many activities might appear challenging for people with mobility issues, Buenaga says many stations have parallel or side-by-side activities for people with physical restrictions.
The Newark Department of Parks Director Joe Spadafino said this is by far the biggest project his department has ever undertaken. “Underneath all of that incredible playground surface is a lot of sweat from volunteers and workers who have brought this vision to life.”
When Spadafino asked for a show of hands of Preston’s Playground volunteers, about 50 in the audience proudly raised theirs. Some of the sponsors include the Carpenter Foundation, Catalyst Visuals, City of Newark, Corrado Construction, Crestlea Foundation, DHSS, Discover Card, EDiS, Fusion Racing, Kids with Confidence, Longwood Foundation, Nemours Fund, Newark Morning Rotary Club and the Newark New Century Club.
Newark resident Jessica Lawhorn said the new playground is a very big deal for her community. “I’ve brought my 12-year-old and 6-year-old up here for weeks to see the playground as it was being developed. We were anxiously waiting for this day to come. It’s beautiful and has so many to offer. We’re so happy it’s in Newark,” she said.
“This is something that will benefit children for years to come,” remarked Newark Mayor Polly Sierer. Sierer shared that this project is all the most special because of Preston. “I’m one of Preston’s girlfriends,” she joked.