HGTV star Carter Oosterhouse headlines dedication of Bert Goens accessibility playground

Traverse City native Carter Oosterhouse, a nationally known home improvement TV show host helped to cut the ribbon on the Bert Goens accessibility playground Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. (WWMT)

LAWRENCE, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - An HGTV star was in West Michigan on Monday to dedicate a brand new playground. Carter Oosterhouse’s charity “Carter’s Kids” helped design the playground in Van Buren County to be handicap accessible.

“The fact that there are so many accessibilities here for kids who otherwise wouldn’t have that, you know those kids are really happy,” Oosterhouse said.

Word are almost unnecessary to describe the scene at Bert Goens Learning Center in Lawrence, because the smiles do all the talking. The Janice DiGiovanni Playground had its official ribbon cutting ceremony. It was the dream of the former principal to see this playground to completion. DiGiovanni succumbed to brain cancer in April, and was never able to see it herself. Those who continued on with the project in her memory named this space in her honor.

Current principal Susan Reynolds said about the playground, “It’s a game changer. It’s life changing to be able to have recess and have fun and a freedom that they haven’t had.”

The playground was a collaborative effort between the school, the community, and Carter’s Kids. The school raised more than $50,000 for the project, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation matched those funds. Carter’s Kids provided the design and eased construction costs. Local volunteers and businesses donated time and additional funding.

“This is truly one of the most inspirational playground builds that I have ever seen,” Oosterhouse said at Monday’s ceremony.

It’s inspirational not only because of the playground’s namesake, but because of the access it gives students. There are wheelchair accessible swings, soft surfaces for kids to play and move around on, and open spaces for those with physical limitations. The playground was built with one purpose in mind, to give students opportunities to move and play that they’ve never had before.

The playground features the latest in adaptive equipment with wheelchair access and easy transfer. It has a:

  • Poured in place surface for safety, ease in walking, and wheelchair/walker accessibility;
  • Interactive, sensory game pieces to provide sensory input/output;
  • Additional swings, including a wheelchair swing;
  • Equipment that contributes to the development of social skills and physical fitness;
  • And expanded green space with enlarged fenced area.

“I see classrooms out here that I feel like I haven’t seen before,” Reynolds said. “There are empty wheelchairs around the playground because kids are playing.”

Oosterhouse said the best part of the day for him, was watching the students swarm the playground after the ribbon cutting. “You know that energy is not going to exist just for that moment,” he said. “It’s literally going to exist for the next 20 years with a space like this.”

This project isn’t quite complete yet, there is a Phase Two. That phase will include outdoor physical fitness equipment for students.

For more information, on Carter's Kids, click here.

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