Bellbrook kids inspire accessible ‘Eagleland’ playground with Lions Club’s help

Work is beginning now on the $320,000 facility next to Bell Creek Intermediate School which will be usable by all children, including those in wheelchairs

A project that started a year ago with a council of then-third-grade Bellbrook students has turned into a community effort to create a playground that all students can use.

Now as they’re finishing fourth grade, several members of that class turned the first dirt this week on a playground that their classmates with wheelchairs can enjoy with them.

“They worked through something that was really important that really mattered,” third-grade teacher Jill Culler said Monday.

As part of a project-based learning activity in Culler’s third-grade class at Bell Creek Intermediate, the students wrote to Bell Creek Principal Donnie Phelps, for permission and funding to make changes to the playground between Bell Creek and the St. Pierre Board of Education Building.

Reading those letters now is charming, Phelps said, as some of them are signed with things like “over and out,” but raised the important question of why their school had accessible bathrooms, parking spots, and doorways, but not a playground.

“And I’m thinking to myself, why didn’t grownups think about this?” Phelps said. “It was real, authentic learning, and showing them that just because you are young doesn’t mean you can’t have a big impact.”

Third grade is when kids start learning math concepts of area and perimeter, as well as lessons on botany and plants, which are among several state learning standards that could be applied both to this project and others that Culler’s class have undertaken, she said. They measured the size of the equipment they would need, researched what steps they would need, and how much it would cost.

“We went out to the playground and measured a bunch of stuff,” said now-fourth grader Rosie Boles.

In February 2023, the students presented their idea at a Shark Tank-like event put on by the Bellbrook Lions Club at their annual pancake breakfast.

“There were a bunch of other people who were trying to get money, and we talked about how our project would need the money and how it would benefit the whole community,” Boles said.

Originally, the class asked the club for a single, $20,000 piece of equipment. Now, the Lions Club has expanded the project, aiming to make the entirety of the playground accessible for wheelchairs.

The goal is to finish construction by the end of the summer so “the kids that came up with this idea, when they enter fifth grade, they actually can come out and play on it,” said project manager and Bellbrook Lion Gregg Sparks.

Called Eagleland 2, the new playground is a spiritual successor to an old wooden playground of the same name built in Bellbrook in 1992. Splintery and beloved, the original Eagleland was torn down in 2016.

The new equipment includes a We-Go-Round, which is a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round, a 34-foot accessible zipline, and a rare climbing apparatus (only three others of the same kind have been built in the United States), Sparks said.

The club will also replace the liner under the existing rubber playground mulch, and replace the old swing set with a new one.

The Bellbrook Lions Club will take possession of the property shortly after the school year ends to being work.

The total cost of the project is about $320,000, about $200,000 of which is contributed by the Bellbrook Lions Club. The project will be entirely funded on donations, with no taxpayer funds involved.

The Lions Club has about $100,000 of donations left to go, and is planning a community build this summer.

“We’re gonna get the hands dirty of all the little kids, parents, anybody that wants to come out,” Sparks said.

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