A brisk wind was blowing Thursday as third-grader Willie Rutledge Jr. helped cut the ribbon to officially open the new special needs playground at Socastee Elementary School before heading to the swings, where one was designed especially for him and his wheelchair.
His classmates quickly followed to explore other equipment in the space. There were other swings and structures to climb on, as well as a xylophone and several interactive panels built to move and make noises to stimulate their sensory and motor skills.
The playground was a project of the Socastee Heritage Foundation, which was formed to support the Socastee community and its children through fundraisers, such as the Socastee Heritage Festival. Proceeds from 2011’s event went toward the playground project, which had its challenges along the way but also inspired a second playground project, which is nearing completion at Palmetto Bays Elementary School.
“Thank you is not enough,” said Socastee Principal Deb Colliver to foundation members who attended the dedication. “The kids are so happy, and now they’re able to get out and intermingle with the other children.”
The new area is integrated with the school’s basketball court and playground facilities for other students. That enables the special needs children to be engaged while they are outside, in addition to the interaction they already have with their peer mentors, the student buddies who work alongside them, Colliver said. There also may be some grant money available, she said, which would be used to purchase a sun shade for the playground, if it comes through.
Amy Weaver, a foundation member, said the group worked very closely with Colliver and the special education teachers to fill their wish list for the playground. She said the group did not donate the money, but purchased the equipment and coordinated with Horry County Schools for the installation, which was a lengthier process than the group anticipated.
Colliver said part of the delay came down to codes and regulations that had to be followed, many of which she didn’t even know. She said there were rules about everything from the location of equipment and concrete, to wheelchair accessibility, irrigation – even how deep the woodchips could be for the playground floor.
“They were just looking out for the safety of the kids,” said Colliver, who said the district added some funds to help bring the project home.
Weaver said proceeds from last year’s festival were used for a special needs playground to be built at Palmetto Bays, and once the Socastee project was rolling, the second one seemed to go much smoother and at a faster pace. In fact, Cathy Slater, principal at Palmetto Bays, said their playground is expected to be finished by the middle of next month.
“As long as it doesn’t rain, and it’s not too cold, we should be on schedule,” she said.
Slater said the school was awarded a $25,000 State Farm community grant that was written under the foundation’s name and used for the playground. She said State Farm selects grants that fit its criteria, then puts them online for people to vote, and the company said this grant was the first of its kind for them.