ST. ALBANS- Huddled in the corner of the Traveled Cup, buried under a pile of papers, sat the Vice President of Med Associates Inc., Valdemar Garibay. A passerby would assume the busy business owner was prepping a document for the research and development company which designs products for behavioral phycology and other medical research fields.
Instead, Garibay is hard at work designing what will soon be one of St. Albans’ biggest new youth attraction – a 10,000 square foot playground intended to be fun for kids with a range of abilities.
Garibay and his wife, Bridget, have had their minds set on building a community playground for years. In 2015, the executives of Med Associates almost brought that dream to life in the Florida community they were living in at the time, but the idea was put on hold as the city had plans of their own for a park. Despite the setback, the Garibay’s vision never dimmed.
As parents of four young children, they knew how important it was to have a place to bring the kids to burn off some extra steam. When they moved back to St. Albans a few years ago, Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center was a popular place for the family.
“I would take my young sons to the park to kick the ball around, or walk around the Rotary path,” Garibay said. That’s when he noticed an old run-down wooden fitness set just off the paved walking path. He decided to contact Dave Kimmel, director of Collins Perley, to see how he could help.
Originally, the plan was just to upgrade the current workout equipment, Garibay says. His vision was a project estimated at no more than $5,000. But when Kimmel mentioned the need for a playground, the lights went on.
“I was ready to jump on that idea,” Garibay said. “We went to his office and he showed me this playground flier. I had never done this before, but I was just thinking, ‘wow, this is really cool.’ I took that flier home and studied it to death, because that’s what I do.”
The original playground catalog was given to the Garibays in July. Now, its glossy pages are worn with use and pencil sketches fill every last space within. As Garibay excitedly showcases what is in store for the Collins Perley playground, it’s clear the design has been well thought out.
“The plans have changed 14 times,” Garibay said with a laugh.
The current design boasts 22,000 pounds of equipment with several inclusive features, meaning all children – including those with disabilities — will be able to enjoy its offerings.
This was important to the Garibays, as several of their own children have grown up overcoming various health challenges. Two of their children have a mild spinal cord defect, exposing the young family to many challenges facing children with mobility issues.
“When I was designing this playground, I wasn’t just looking at it like, ‘oh, it spins, this looks fun!’ I was looking at the medical aspects, the safety, the health and the fitness,” Garibay said.
The park will include what’s called an Alta Glide, or an all-inclusive swing, that even children in wheelchairs can enjoy. The rocking device will also help kids with sensory challenges.
Among rock climbing walls, and slides, the playground will depend on ramps instead of steps to allow increased access. There will also be various sensory panels positioned around the park, including a music center right off the rotary path.
The swings will include basic bucket swings for toddlers, inclusive swings that lock around a child, similar to a roller coaster seat, and what’s called a generation swing, where a toddler and parent can sit together.
The playground will also incorporate Biba, an interactive playground app where parents can keep track of their child’s activities. The goal is to help children stay engaged in play longer, ultimately increasing youth fitness.
All of the designs, Garibay says, were developed with advice from experts in the community, including Northwestern Counseling & Support Services, Northwestern Medical Center and RiseVT.
“I definitely wanted to get other people’s input,” Garibay said. “That was priority, because this is a community playground.”
It’s not the only playground in the works either.
The Garibays have also been collaborating with Fairfield Center School to design a smaller play area for preschoolers.
The family’s young children all go or have gone to the school, and the lack of a preschool-age play facility was felt firsthand. The playground was another longtime dream for Garibay, and once the Collins Perley project took off, he pulled the trigger on the smaller project.
The Fairfield facility will be 2,500 square feet. It will be designed for children aged two to five. Though not fully inclusive, some features will be designed for children with disabilities such as inclusive gliders, which rock back and forth, and will be large enough to allow for wheel-chair access. There will also be a music station, similar to the design for Collins Perley.
Garibay is particularly excited about the Alex’s Lemonade Stand feature. The stand, which will be constructed on the side of the playground, will raise money for the foundation supporting cancer research. The hope is some of the young classes of students can hold events there, while experiencing what it’s like to host their very own lemonade stand.
Both projects are expected to be complete sometime in the summer. Once construction begins, the Garibays will be seeking out volunteers to help with construction.
Donations are also still being solicited. About $20,000 still needs to be raised for both projects.
“We’re almost there, and we appreciate everyone who has supported this project,” Garibay said. “At the end of the day I’m just very grateful for all the support, we’re thankful for the community, because obviously this is a community playground.”
Those that may be interested in contributing to the Collins Perley playground may contact Dave Kimel at 802-752-2931 or: firstname.lastname@example.org. To make a contribution to the Fairfield Center School playground, which needs a fence, contact the Maple Run School District at 802-524-2600.