Permanent fencing installed at the all-inclusive playground in Atascadero — adding safety and security for children with special needs

On a rainy Saturday morning, the Atascadero Rotary Club and the Atascadero Kiwanis Club bridged their cultural divide to come together for Joy Playground.

United, the groups replaced the temporary chainlink fence around the park with permanent fence installation.

“About a dozen of us, mostly from Kiwanis and Rotary service clubs,” Rotarian Rich Johnson said between hammer-drilling holes for fence post installations. “We had temporary fencing up until today, so it is just great to be able to help in the community and make an all-accessible playground for kids — not just Atascadero kids, but all around the county.”

Joy Playground board member Sarah Sullivan took pictures and posted social media posts for the group to enlist more support for the project, which is expected to take days or weeks to complete, depending on help provided by the community. Work is expected to continue despite the forecasted rain.

“Look at these guys,” Sullivan said. “I love it. I can’t move a fence.”

Sullivan did jump in and help vertically level fence posts as the teams made their way around the perimeter.

The fencing materials cost an estimated $17,000, but was made available by Creative Fence of Arroyo Grande at wholesale to Joy Playground — saving approximately $15,000 in expenses.

The completed project will restore full access to the playground for the families who use it — the new fencing will provide added financial savings, security and safety, as well as aesthetics.

“First, it will look much nicer,” Sullivan said. “The fencing was one of the most important pieces for the kids who elope. This makes me feel safer than the chainlink fence. Also, we were renting the chainlink fence, so we don’t have to rent that anymore.”

The team of community members on Saturday put up 14 fence sections by noon, with about 37 sections left to complete.

“We have a bunch of guys coming back after heading to lunch,” Sullivan said, “and it will be a few more days of work to finish up. We will get as far as we can today, and tomorrow is supposed to rain so not sure if we will be here.”

The fence provides a necessary element for the all-inclusive playground. Some of the children with special needs are prone to elope, endangering themselves at parks without secure boundaries.

According to the National Institute of Elopement Prevention and Resolution, elopement happens when “an individual with cognitive challenges or special needs wanders, runs away from or otherwise leaves a caregiving facility or environment.”

The Joy Playground fence was necessary to ensure a safe, secure place for families of children with special needs to relax and enjoy the playground together in a contained environment.

The gate will be locked by an automatic timer, saving personnel time and effort in daily opening and closing of the park.

Outside the fence, more playground is planned, with a splash pad for water-related features.

“The splash pad is in the planning process,” Sullivan said. “We are figuring out funding. While we are working on that, we will also be adding shade. That was a big complaint from people. I’ve been here when it is 75 degrees, and it feels like it is 90.”

The shade addition may need additional funding, but planning is not complete.

“We got a $40,000 donation from the Chris Jesperson Foundation,” Sullivan said. “We’ll be using that for the shade. We may have to fund more for that. I don’t have a quote yet, but that is the number one priority.”

In addition to the fencing, better signage is planned to recognize those who supported the $1.2 million community investment.

“It just looks nicer, so much nicer,” Sullivan said. “It makes it feel like it is here now … it’s permanent.”

Getting through this together, Atascadero