Sensory playground equipment unveiled at South Park

By BRITTANY FHOLER 
Cove Leader-Press 

The Five Hills Scholarship Pageant royalty of 2017 and 2018 joined together for the unveiling of a three-pole xylophone installed at the South Park playground Tuesday afternoon. 
The playground equipment is sensory playground equipment installed by Parks and Recreation maintenance department as part of a community service project by Ms. Five Hills 2017 Heidi Cortez, whose platform was autism awareness. The unveiling came just in time because April is Autism Awareness month. 
Cortez raised over $3,000 in funds for the purchase of the equipment through the Krist Kindl Charity Pageant and through a grant from the Fort Hood Area Thrift Shop in 2017. She chose this as her platform because she has two nephews and a cousin affected by autism spectrum disorder, she said. 
“I feel that every child should be able to play on a playground and their sensory is what keeps them from doing it, so if there’s something to entice them to play to interact with other kids, I felt like that was a need that the city needed,” Cortez said. 
Serious thought went into deciding which piece of equipment to have installed. The three metal poles have two mallets attached and make different sounds depending on where the mallets hit them. Because they are metal, they will last a long time and have little maintenance required. 
“With the sensory equipment, we tried to look for something with sight, sound, touch and something that would attract not only kids with autism but other children too so that everybody would want to play together,” Cortez said. 
After seeing the equipment installed, Cortez said it brought back all the memories of the work that went into getting to this point and the lasting friendships she made with her fellow royalty. 
She was glad to see kids playing with the piece of equipment, no matter whether they have autism or not. 
It is a goal to have other coordinating pieces installed in the future, she added. 
Parks and Recreation Director shared that the newest piece of equipment tied in perfectly to the Parks Improvement plans. 
“Phase I, Phase II and Phase III really come down to ADA and accessibility so you’re starting to see more and more things throughout the park systems that really positively impact accessibility throughout the parks, and so this is just one small piece but a big piece brought to you by volunteers,” Brown said. 
Angela Kirkpatrick, director of Special Education for Copperas Cove Independent School District, attended the unveiling. 
“The need for sensory input is an important part of [the students’] day during school so having an opportunity to have sensory equipment on the playgrounds when they come home is a good first step,” Kirkpatrick said. “The accessibility to the playgrounds is always a challenge for all of our students that we serve, not just students with autism, but I think they’ll love the sensory input they get from playing with it and I look forward to seeing more of those expand across the city.” 

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