Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Building memories

New Kids Kastle increases accessibility, builds community
Maya Hernandez
The Kids Kastle construction site is empty as local residents self quarantine due to a stay at home order. The community build days were postponed due to COVID-19.

The reconstruction of Kids Kastle is one of the many events cancelled by the city of Highland Village, which recently issued an emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cancelling all events, programs and activities through May 13.

Highland Village Parks and Recreation Director Phillip Lozano is hoping that the build days will be rescheduled for May but cannot confirm a date at this time. They were originally set for late March and early April.

“Our plan is to build this for the community and it was very much heading that way until the coronavirus came into the picture… ” Lozano said. “We want to make sure that we’re ensuring the safety and well being of our community.”

Although the project is rescheduled, community members that are 14 or older can still sign up to volunteer to help rebuild the playground on the Speak Up Highland Village website.

“They’ll actively participate in the build process, and that process not only includes the physical ability to erect and build things, but also to see people, to make sure that folks have the equipment and the tools that they need,” Lozano said. “So it’s an inclusive build process that requires many different tasks.”

Before construction was postponed, residents had planned to donate 2,200 meals for the build days and 70 percent of the volunteer slots had already been filled. They also raised about $300,000 for the project, which has a $600,000 bond. Some organizations, including National Honor Society, were also planning on offering service hours to students that work on the project.

“A lot of folks who grew up on Kids Kastle and remember it wanted to be a part of the new Kids Kastle build, so a lot of positive energy in the city and a lot of love for the whole process moving forward,” Lozano said.

Kids Kastle was constructed in 1994 as the first community-built playground in Denton County. However, it failed to meet the accessibility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so Highland Village started rebuilding efforts in 2017. The city worked with the company Play by Design.

“Kids Kastle has outlived its useful life,” Lozano said. “It is in great need of replacement.”

Designer and Project Manager Laura Sehn visited local elementary schools on Sept. 6 to discuss ideas for Kids Kastle with students. The kids drew pictures of their dream playgrounds, which she used as inspiration to create the first draft of the design.

“The best part is going in and talking to all the kids, finding out what they want to play on,” Sehn said. “It’s kind of fun when you see so many of them that think about what other kids want to play on too…. A lot of them think about accessibility and making it so that kids in wheelchairs can also play.”

Madi Olivier
Kids Kastle has been closed for construction since the original structure was torn down in November of 2019. The playground quickly became a popular spot for families in the local area after it was built in 1994.

The next day, Sehn took the hundreds of drawings and hung them along the walls of the Briarhill Middle School gym and residents gathered to give their opinions on the playground design, which was then edited.

“You work side by side with people that you probably see in the grocery store every week,” Sehn said. “It’s a really nice way to focus on the community and get everyone working together to make something special for the kids.”

While at Briarhill, Sehn and Lozano visited a sensory classroom and discussed how they could ensure that the new playground would be accessible for special needs children as well with one of the special education teachers.

“She just was so happy about what we were doing at Kids Kastle, that now there’s a place outside of her classroom to take her students,” Lozano said.

The developers decided to redo the park’s entrance, allow food trucks in the park and remove sediment from the bottom of the ponds to benefit aquatic life. However, their main goal after meeting with the community members was making Kids Kastle accessible to people of all abilities while keeping the castle theme.

“We’re not only going to have a very beautiful playground where the play value is going to be increased tremendously, but it’s also going to provide an immediate benefit for folks with special needs, whether they’re grandparents, parents, veterans, or kids. It’s going to be all of them,” Lozano said. “So it’s very special, makes me very, very proud not only of what the city has done, but that all of the folks are equal.”

The plans for the new playground include adapted swings, wheelchair ramps, an all-ability rocking boat, anti-static turf, a stainless steel slide and a Cozy Pod Spinner. These will make the park accessible to community members with varying disabilities, including those with wheelchairs, cochlear implants and autism.

Sehn has designed over two dozen playgrounds in her career, but she said that working on Kids Kastle stands out because of its whimsical design.

“This one I think is going to be fun because there’s a lot of imaginative, fun elements that are put into it and they really, really wanted it to be as inclusive as possible,” Sehn said.

In its 26 year lifespan, Kids Kastle became a cherished part of Highland Village. When it was torn down in November, many community members came back to get the handprint tiles and other mementos they included in the original structure.

“We’re getting folks that were in their 20’s and 30’s, and now they’re in their 50’s and 60’s, and they were reminiscing and talking about what prompted them to be a part of the community build and how it had a direct impact on their children and the positive interaction in their social groups,” Lozano said. “The love and the stories that they expressed and how fulfilling it was for them at the time. They made friendships that have lasted decades now. It was a beautiful thing.”

Lozano describes making the playground more accessible as a “beautiful experience,” as his mom was a special education teacher in Dallas and he used to spend time with her students.

Maya Hernandez
Construction continues on the playground. Kids Kastle Designer and Project Manager Laura Sehn made sure to keep the original playground’s castle theme while including new structures.

“I saw back in the 80’s there wasn’t much done on the way of playgrounds for folks with special needs so throughout my career, I’ve really tried to focus on that,” Lozano said. “To see this project and the fact that it’s a community build, to bring it to where it is today and what it was, was very special to me and it just warms my heart tremendously.”

Lozano believes that the community sees the same wonderful opportunity to participate in making memories that he does when looking at Kids Kastle, and hopes that they will act on it by volunteering.

“We have a 14 year old that may be out there helping and when they’re 40, they’re going to be taking their children to play on it. They’re going to be able to tell them that they were part of this process. It’s going to be tremendous,” Lozano said. “It’s a place where memories are made… we’re getting folks from different various backgrounds and reasons, but it’s all positive. They all see the opportunity here to do something pretty special and unique.”




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About the Contributors
Madi Olivier
Madi Olivier, Editor in Chief
Madi Olivier is a senior and third-year staffer, although most people know her as the short girl who talks too much. The newsroom is her favorite place to be and she spent most of her time last year convincing Hale to let her stay after school for “just five more minutes.” However, if the door to C108 is locked, you can normally find her at gymnastics practice or in the kitchen trying to bake. Her speciality is anything burnt or overflowing from the pan. She’s so excited to be the editor in chief of The Marquee and to see what amazing, impactful stories her staff will publish this year. 
Maya Hernandez
Maya Hernandez, Photo Editor
Maya Hernandez is a senior and this is her third year on staff. Outside of photography her passions include avoiding finishing any of the paintings that she’s ever started on, decorating her room with as many cute, small objects as possible and buying any item of clothing that’s in a fun color. She’s looking forward to telling stories through her photos and to a great year on staff!

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