The exciting news went viral Tuesday before Independence Parks and Recreation staff members even had a chance to make the announcement themselves.

The exciting news went viral Tuesday before Independence Parks and Recreation staff members even had a chance to make the announcement themselves.


“But,” said Eric Urfer, director of Parks and Recreation, laughing, “that’s social media.”


Thanks to lots of Facebook votes, Independence Parks and Recreation officially won a $25,000 grant toward a new special needs-accessible playground.


The results were announced Tuesday as part of the State Farm Insurance company’s online competition. Of 3,000 causes submitted, Independence was one of 100 finalists.


From April 27 through May 17, supporters were allowed to cast up to 10 votes each day on Facebook for Independence’s project, “Play With No Boundaries” at McCoy Park. That project was one of the top 40 that will receive $25,000.


The news was especially exciting for District 1 City Council Member Marcie Gragg, whose district will include the playground. Gragg’s 13-year-old son Joshua is a special-needs child who has common variable immune deficiency, as well as across-the-board developmental delays.


“I just think that it’s fantastic,” Gragg said. “We have a population of special needs children in Independence, and there isn’t any place nearby to go to that would benefit them. I think it’s going to open up a really neat service.”


Years ago, Joshua played on a special needs-accessible playground at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. Developing strength and mobility, Gragg said, was one of the challenges Joshua faced as a younger child. He continues to receive physical therapy at school.


“When you’re a younger kid, it’s important to incorporate physical therapy with play,” she said. “It’s really hard for parents to do that at a playground without a lot of cost involved. It’s really important to have playgrounds nearby to allow kids to play with other kids and to encourage them to be physically active.”


The playground is estimated to cost about $300,000 and was approved as part of the parks master plan in 2011. The 5,100-square-foot playground would feature specially engineered swings, slides and a jungle gym, and almost all of the features would be handicapped accessible.


The Graggs live within walking distance of McCoy Park, and even as Joshua continues throughout his teenage years, the new playground will benefit him because he has younger siblings, Marcie Gragg said.


“It also encourages families and friends to play together,” she said. “It’s still as much fun as a typical playground – in fact, most children wouldn’t know that there is a difference between the two playgrounds.”


Aside from the equipment, Gragg said she also is excited to work with city staff members on improving accessibility to the park and parking.


“We need to make sure that not only are we putting in the right equipment,” she said, “but we’re putting it in, in a way that will most benefit our disabled kids.”


The $25,000 is seed money for future fundraising toward the playground, which has no projected date for completion, Urfer said. Other possible funding sources include grants, fundraisers, donations and some Parks and Recreation sales tax matching dollars.


“This is step one,” he said.


In early June, Urfer will meet with charitable organizations that focus on raising money for special needs-accessible playgrounds. The Independence project was the only one in Missouri and in the greater Kansas City area to receive grant funding. Two projects in Kansas – one in Wichita, one in Plains – will each receive $25,000, as well.


“We’re just thrilled. The outpouring of support, especially in the latter stages of that contest, was overwhelming,” Urfer said. “We just can’t say thank you enough for those who are pulling for us and helping us to get this playground in place.”