Last night, the gates were thrown open to the Plewis Automotive Group Inclusive Park (PAGI Park) for the very first time.
Hundreds of kids and their families came out to celebrate, racing around the play structures, shooting down the slides, and zipping up ladders, all the while filling the air with laughter and screams of joy.
Representing the City of Swift Current on the matter was Ryan Switzer, city councillor and deputy mayor for the evening. He was laughing and smiling throughout the opening, enjoying the sights and sounds of so many children running around.
"Just hearing all these kids having fun," said Switzer. "Everybody's having a great time. They're making new friends, they're eating some popcorn, they're playing on a new playground, a playground that literally everyone in the community can play on. We're so lucky to be a part of a night like this."
Groups like the Swift Current Fire Department and SaskAbilities were in attendance. They were lending a hand with handing out popcorn and snow cones, and providing answers to any questions kids or parents may have had.
The park consists of a play structure that is accessible via rampways that are wide enough for at least two wheelchairs to get passed one another. There are multiple climbable segments, an inground accessible merry-go-round, and a wheelchair-accessible swing. Various tarps offer some shade, and bathroom facilities are available.
Some development of the surrounding greenspace is slated to be completed next year, opening up the rest of the area for even more fun and games.
The construction of the PAGI Park was made possible by collaboration between the City of Swift Current, the provincial government, and the federal government. The City of Swift Current got the ball rolling after Mike Newell, the parks manager for the City of Swift Current, was asked by his kids why there wasn't already a park at the location.
"Ryan Plewis had been asking about a playground like this in the city for years," recalled Newell. "I got asked the question 'Well, Mike, where would we put it?', and I always said you need a nice big open space. My kids used to drive here after the old long-term care facility was removed and they said to me 'Dad, why isn't there a park there?'. I kind of put the idea together and I asked my boss and said 'Do you think we could get the province to get the land from them?", and then that kind of started the ball rolling."
The City of Swift Current then went about acquiring the capital required for the project. PrairiesCan came on board via the Canada Community Revitalization Fund (CCRF), providing a gargantuan $750,000 towards the project via the federal program.
The provincial government was happy to lend a hand via a 30-year lease on the land for a nominal annual fee of a dollar.
For Everett Hindley, MLA for Swift Current and Minister of Health, the realization of the project, and the rejuvenation of the site was worth every moment spent bargaining and arranging the deal.
"I had made the argument and took this back as the MLA and said to my colleagues 'You know, we have a potential to turn this into something else. We've tried to sell [the land]. We haven't been able to find a buyer that's interested in it for whatever purpose, but I think we can really use this as a park space',", said Hindley.
Hindley also affirmed the notion that the deal would go on in perpetuity, even after the initial 30-year lease.
"The reason it was 30 years is there had to, to my understanding, be some sort of an end date on it," said Hindley. "But the assurance was given by myself, the local MLA saying this is going to be an inclusive park. It's not going to be turned into a commercial development or some other sort of property. This will be a park."
Lastly, the PAGI Park would not be as it stands today without the Plewis Automotive Group. Purchasing the naming rights, the local industry powerhouse made what Swift Current Mayor, Al Bridal, described as a "Significant naming rights commitment", in an official news release.
For Ryan Plewis, partner with Plewis Automotive Group and city councillor for the City of Swift Current, the fact that the park, on day one, was filled to its 9,000 square foot capacity with children and their families reaffirmed the decision to contribute to the community in this way.
"We believe in supporting a community that supports us, and this is an obvious fit for us," said Plewis. "We were able to give back in a way that made this facility just a little bit brighter than the original plan was and for us it's not about advertising or recognition. It's good to give back to the community, but we really believe that it's just the right thing to do."
For the children who will be making the most of this park, those who utilize wheelchairs and other mobility assistances, the park represents a chance to spend time with family and friends like nowhere else lets them.
The smooth ramps, wheelchair-accessible swings and rides, along with the soft rubberized surface, means they can 'horse around' just like every other energetic child gets to.
Tayla Reynolds, who uses a motorized mobility chair, was thrilled with riding the swing, enjoying the play structure, and taking in the awesome afternoon of fun, sun, and play.
"It was life-changing," said Reynolds. "It's the best day of my life."
She and her friends, Madison Lawrence and Peydence Hartley, plan to keep coming back every chance they get to get their fill of play.
"This is in my hometown, and it's something that I feel like we've all waited for," said Lawrence. "It was cool."
That's what the park is for. To offer these children a space to form precious memories of play, friends, and family.
The PAGI Park will allow them to race around, zipping through the play structure. It will let them feel the lurch of the swing and the wind in their hair as they rock back and forth. They will get to laugh with their friends as the ground-level accessible merry-go-round goes so fast they get dizzy and have to stop spinning themselves.
This park will provide families in years to come with all those moments. Even on the first night, kids were begging mom and dad for 15 more minutes of play.
"For me as a dad, being able to see my kids enjoy a place like this is one of the best things you can experience as a parent," said Plewis. "When you put yourself in the shoes of parents whose kids have different abilities, or maybe not be able to access a traditional play structure, that's heartbreaking. For me, that's the impetus behind wanting to be involved in getting this project off the ground."
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