WALNUT CREEK -- A playground where children of all abilities can play is closer to becoming a reality.

The city is getting closer to building an all-abilities playground for children of all needs, including those with disabilities. It would be built at Heather Farm Park and would cost around $950,000 to build.

It's "a wonderful project in a regional park which really is a regional park, and it will serve more than just the residents of Walnut Creek," said Councilman Bob Simmons at a council meeting last month.

Such a playground would include soft flooring rather than sawdust, to accommodate wheelchairs; sound and sensory equipment; ramping systems; shade structures; free play areas; hills and mounds; climbing equipment and parking upgrades.

The City Council decided last year to use $350,000 from a voter-approved regional parks bond for the playground -- this money can only be used for park and recreational needs. And now the county will turn over $450,000 toward the project. Walnut Creek city staffers recently learned that in-lieu park funds collected from developers by Contra Costa County are available for District IV, which includes Walnut Creek, projects.

"In a rare instance of near-perfect timing, we were contacted by Supervisor (Karen) Mitchoff's office" and told of the in-lieu park funds, said Public Services Manager Mike Vickers at a September council meeting. "These were fees that were collected from developments within unincorporated Walnut Creek."

Projects must be within the district and far enough in the design process to be built soon, he said.

Heather Farm is the preferred location because it has the necessary space requirements, a good location and restrooms close enough to the current play structures, according to city officials.

But to have all of the components for the all-abilities park -- such as sunshades and benches -- an additional $100,000 still needs to be raised.

And some have decided to take on that task. The City Council authorized the Walnut Creek Civic Pride Foundation, formerly Fountain For Youth Foundation, to help raise the money for the playground.

Sandra Jacobsen, a foundation board member and member of the Park, Recreation and Open Space Commission, will help co-chair the fundraising for the park.

"With this park, 100 percent of our kids will have a place to play," she said.

City officials hope construction would start in May, and that by October -- the month of the city's celebration of its centennial -- the playground would open.

This type of playground has been done in other cities. Matteo's Dream in Concord was one of the first all-abilities parks, built in 2007 and costing $770,000; much of that money was donated.

The city is spending $500,000 to bring all other city parks and playgrounds up to safety and federal disability compliance within the next several years, as required by law.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.

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