Florence group leads effort to build first all-inclusive playground for special needs

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – There are plans for the first inclusive park and playground for children of all abilities in the city of Florence.

A group of parents, concerned citizens and business leaders called “I Play Florence” is working with city officials to build the playground.

Little six year-old Bentley Merrill always has a smile on his face. He was born with cerebral palsy and his wheel chair is his how he gets around each day. His mother Crystal Merrill says the biggest need for her son is a playground with access ramps.

“He uses that to be able to go to school, to the doctor, to play, anything that he needs those wheels are his legs,” said Merrill.

The city of Florence doesn’t have a playground for children with disabilities.

Parents like Merrill who are a part of “I Play Florence” hope a park with handicap accessible swings, wide walkways, and restrooms will give children like her son a safe place to play.

City of Florence Parks and Recreation Manager Darlene Buchanan say the playground will be built adjacent to the new Barnes Gymnasium at the corner of Sandburn and Barnes Street in Florence.


“But what really touches my heart is to know that my child will be able to go to the playground and play just like everybody else. He enjoys playing just like any other kid so to know that we’re getting there and he is going to be able to do that it’s awesome,” she said.

A Facebook page for “I Play Florence” has more than 500 likes with support from not only parents, but businesses.


Buchanan says the city of Florence accepted a bid to demolish two buildings on Chase Street to build the playground. She says the city will match I Play Florence with $62,000.

“Play for these kids is learning, this is how they are learning and developing and learning how to use those social skills. They have that right to be able to play with other kids their ages and join in with their peers and not be left out,” added Merrill.

Construction on the inclusive playground will begin in the next month and it will take four to five months to complete, according to city officials.