Groundbreaking for all-accessible playground in Cape County is today

Friday, March 9, 2012

A groundbreaking ceremony will take place today for the area's first all-accessible playground.

Melaina's Magical Playland, soon to be built in Cape County Park North, has been a dream for one Cape Girardeau family that has required many hours of planning and fundraising efforts since 2009.

Andrea and Jeff Cunningham lost their daughter Melaina that same year to complications of nemaline myopathy, a neuromuscular disorder.

Since then, Andrea Cunningham and a not-for-profit organization she founded, Melaina Cunningham and Friends Park Fund, have raised more than $640,000 toward building the playground from a combination of corporate and community donations, grant funding through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and a $150,000 donation from Cape Girardeau County. The county also donated the land for the project.

The playground will cost an estimated $785,000. Fundraising is continuing.

Andrea Cunningham said families looking for another playground like the one that will be named in honor of her daughter's memory now have to travel over an hour.

The playground, which will be located on the west end of Cape County Park North and visible from Interstate 55, has been specially designed and will be built to accommodate children of all ages and adults with disabilities. It will have a castle theme and have features such as a retaining wall with ramps that allow access to its highest levels, swings with arm and back support, flat rubber surfacing and safety fencing. There will also be ample shade at the playground provided by special shade structures. Members of the organization talked with parents who use similar playgrounds while creating its design.

"When we asked parents for recommendations, a lot of them said they wished there were more shade," Cunningham said.

The playground will also contain a sensory wall for children with sensory issues, have a nearby handicapped-accessible restroom and parking and an adjoining shelter.

Plans for building the playground originally called for its completion sometime this spring, but the date was pushed back after the county and organization members decided on a site switch from near the entrance of the park on U.S. 61 to the current site on the west side. A need for more green space, limited space for parking and costly hookups for sewers were factors in the decision, according to Cape Girardeau County Commissioner Jay Purcell, who also oversees the county's parks department.

The new tentative date for completion is mid- to late summer.

Numerous fundraisers have been held by the organization in conjunction with local businesses and agencies, but Cunningham said there is still a definite need for additional funds to make sure the playground can be completed and maintained. She said she hopes the organization will receive some donations large enough to warrant naming opportunities for the site.

"We are still looking for big sponsors," Cunningham said.

Crews are installing sewer and storm-water lines and grading the site. Cunningham said much of the labor and equipment for work on the project is being donated donated by Nip Kelley Trucking and Equipment, Kiefner Construction and Koehler Surveying and Engineering.

"If you count that in with all other costs, this will probably be over a $1 million project," she said.

"I think most citizens would be surprised to know how big a project this is and that it is being completed with a great deal of volunteered equipment, labor and fuel," Purcell wrote in an email to the Southeast Missourian.

Cunningham said she hopes when the community starts seeing the project take shape that it will motivate them to keep giving. The organization has also applied for another grant from the DNR.

Cunningham said she is grateful for all the efforts of local people and businesses large and small that have donated money and time toward the playground.

Among attendees at the groundbreaking will be county officials, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson and Chris Buckland, a representative of the DNR. It is set for 11 a.m. in Cape County Park North.


Pertinent address:

Cape County Park North, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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