We All Play delay

Local moms Amanda Gislason, left, and Missy Ahrens, pictured here with their children Gunnar and Miley, have been the leading force behind the We All Play committee to bring an inclusive playground and miracle field to Manthey Park in Owatonna. Despite funding being on track to begin construction in August, the mothers have agreed to delay until 2021 due to the ongoing complications surrounding COVID-19. (Annie Granlund/People’s Press)

We can build it, but they can’t come.

After three years of discussion and two years of active fundraising, the We All Play Inclusive Playground and Miracle Field will have to wait just a little bit longer to become a reality. On Monday, Owatonna Recreation Manager Tim Truelson announced to the Park Board on behalf of the We All Play Committee that the project, which was scheduled to begin construction in August, will be put on hold due to the ongoing pandemic.

“This has nothing to do with the funding,” Truelson said. “We wanted this to be a celebration to do it respectfully the right way in honor of our many donors to this project, so for the health and safety of our community we are pushing the construction back to hopefully the spring of 2021.”

In 2017, local mothers Amanda Gislason and Missy Ahrens, who have children with Down syndrome, began openly discussing that the Owatonna community is desperately missing an inclusive area allowing children of all abilities to play together.

The two instantly began advocating for the construction of both a miracle field and an inclusive playground to take place at the city’s Manthey Park, kicking off the fundraiser the community now knows as We All Play. To date, the We All Play committee has raised nearly $1 million through grants, business collaborations, and individual donations from the community.

Truelson said that while the decision to postpone was both difficult and emotional, the mothers agreed that it was the right thing to do. The group anticipates a couple of hundred people will want to attend the grand opening, and simply couldn’t imagine unveiling such an important project during a time when it couldn’t be enjoyed and loved by all.

“We don’t want to bring people together if it’s not the right thing to do, and with the way things are going right now it’s not going to be feasible,” Truelson said, saying that the decision is no reflection on funding and was purely based on public health concerns.

“This playground is about kids playing side by side, parents side by side, grandparents side by side. We can’t do any of that right now.”

For Ahrens, whose daughter Miley serves as her inspiration and drive to see the inclusive playground and miracle field come to life, the decision to delay the project has been especilly tough.

“The point of this project is to promote and support inclusion and social distancing is definitely a huge hurdle when your goal is to bring people closer together, but then again, social distancing I guess has always been the invisible hurdle or driver in the fight for inclusion,” Ahrens said. “I have a feeling that when we are ready to move forward with the build there is going to be even more appreciation and understanding from the community for why this project is needed. They’ve all experienced these past few months what our kiddos have been experiencing their entire lives.”

Gislason said that she and her son Gunnar are ready for a big celebration that honors the commitment and heart that the community has put into the playground over the last three years.

“No matter how much we want to complete this project for our community, we also want to be able to finish our years of hard work with a celebration,” Gislason said. “We plan to involve the community in the building of the playground and of course we want our community to be able to play on the playground once it is complete.”

“We want the community to know that we are ready to build and we are ready to bring this inclusive playground and miracle league to you, but construction will need to be pushed for the safety of all of us,” she continued. “Let’s plan for a really big celebration in 2021.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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