Plans are in motion to create a brand new park and playgrounds near downtown Tucson designed for children who are on the autism spectrum.
The park is a collaboration between Tucson Parks and Recreation and Intermountain Centers and will be built on vacant land adjacent to the Integrated Care Center for Children, at 401 N. Bonita Ave, west of Interstate 10.
A rendering of the proposed park posted on Intermountain's website shows two, different age-specific play areas for children ages 2-5 and 5-12 and five different themed zones — beach, music, woods, wild animals and farm. It also includes plenty of shade trees and sails, along with features for children with physical disabilities, according to the website.
The Integrated Care Center, run by Intermountain, houses a clinic for children with autism spectrum diagnoses and provides health and therapeutic services for children with a variety of challenges, according to a recent Arizona Daily Star story. It's also home to Intermountain's K-12 school for students with autism.
The park would be used as a playground for the school during the school day and for therapeutic recreation summer day camps by Tucson Parks and Recreation. It would also be available for use by the general public during weekends and holidays, according to documents from a Nov. 19 Tucson City Council meeting where a development and maintenance agreement for the project was approved.
As part of the development process families and parents of children with autism will be invited to share input about the types of play experiences and activities they would like to see at the park, says Brent Dennis, director of Tucson Parks and Recreation.
Dennis says he is excited about this project because it embodies the department's commitment to being "caring and inclusive" in creating spaces that meet the diverse needs of the Tucson community.
Earlier this year, Tucson Parks and Recreation completed a new playground at Reid Park with ADA accessible features and equipment for children who use wheelchairs.
Development of the new park is a multi-phase project, and each piece will be completed as funding becomes available. A project of this scale could cost up to $1 million, Dennis says. He is hopeful that a portion of the park will be completed by next summer.
Intermountain will provide funding for fencing and turf, and the Marshall Foundation has given partial funding for the sensory play space for kids ages 2 to 5 that "encourages socialization and sensory discovery," according to Intermountains's website.
Both Intermountain and Parks and Recreation will explore other options for funding, including grants, donations, impact fees and bonds.