October 9, 2015.
A cool, dreary, damp late Friday afternoon/early evening in the city of Franklin. Didn’t matter. It might as well have been 70 degrees and sunny.
Forgive me. I had the honor and privilege of serving as the emcee for the groundbreaking of Kayla’s Playground in Franklin…
And again at the Grand Opening in October of 2015.
During my remarks I said the ceremony marked the greatest day in the history of the city of Franklin. I meant it, and those words I believe stand true today.
At the Grand Opening Franklin Mayor Steve Olson presented a special proclamation:
STATE OF WISCONSIN CITY OF FRANKLIN MILWAUKEE COUNTY
A PROCLAMATION IN AND OF INVITATION TO HUMANITY FOR AND TO THE OPENING OF KAYLA’S PLAYGROUND
WHEREAS, Kayla Runte was born on August 1, 2004 to Michelle and John Runte; and
WHEREAS, Baby Kayla did not have it easy, having complications at birth and at the age of six months having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy; and
WHEREAS, Kayla nonetheless was the pinnacle of Human quality, effort, endeavor and success, becoming able to intelligently communicate with others, though without being able to speak, to move physically without being able essentially to physically move, and to engage in social activities and not only acquire friends, but to become the idol of many, not just children, but most, if not all of those People who met her; and
WHEREAS, tribute is due to Michelle and John, for without them and all of their true love and efforts for Kayla, perhaps Kayla’s Wonderful Life on Earth may have been less; and
WHEREAS, Kayla’s enjoyment of life not often enough included trips to far away all-inclusive all-accessible playgrounds, where she could enjoy the common elements of Life on Earth, such as friends, nature, fun and laughter along with playtime; and
WHEREAS, Kayla’s Krew, an unincorporated association created by her Parents, and Penfield Children’s Center, which helped Kayla and her family enjoy a rich life, and the City of Franklin, have worked together to create Kayla’s Playground, an all-inclusive all-accessible playground, in Honor of Kayla (and her Parents), for all Humanity to enjoy; and
WHEREAS, All children deserve the experience to swing, slide, climb and socialize with other children without the limitations of traditional playgrounds through the inclusive design of Kayla’s Playground; and
WHEREAS, Kayla’s Playground will become a place where all abilities will be embraced, where life lessons can be learned from each other, where patience, encouragement, compassion and believing in ones’ self will be common; and
WHEREAS, while Kayla is no longer physically with us on Earth, she is here and among us in our hearts and minds and we will together further her Extraordinary Spirit
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT PROCLAIMED, that I, Stephen R. Olson, Mayor of the City of Franklin, Wisconsin, on behalf of all of the Citizens of Franklin, hereby cherish the Spirit of Kayla and
recognize and commend Michelle, John and Brooke Runte and all of the volunteers who valuably and joyfully assisted in the creation and development of Kayla’s Playground. I further encourage all of the Citizens of the City of Franklin and beyond, upon their attendance to the opening of Kayla’s Playground on October 9, 2015, and upon their attendance forever thereafter, to wear a little bit of purple or a butterfly symbol, to signify their recognition of Kayla, Kayla’s Krew and the Humanity involved in this effort and hereby designate October 9, 2015 as Kayla’s All Inclusive, All Accessible Playground day in the City of Franklin.
Presented to the City of Franklin Common Council this 6th Day of October, 2015.
Eight months later, in June 2016, the city of Franklin and Kayla’s Playground was the recipient of a 2016 Salute Award by the Public Policy Forum in the category of “Public-Private Cooperation.” From the Forum’s website:
Kayla’s Krew is a group of citizens who sought to build an all-inclusive playground in Franklin that would be accessible for all children and families of any age and ability. The effort was dedicated to the memory of Kayla Runte, a little girl with cerebral palsy who passed away at the age of eight. Collaborating with the City of Franklin and several additional public and private sector organizations – including the Franklin Public School District, Greendale Public School District, and Penfield Children’s Center – Kayla’s Krew organized a community-wide effort to build the playground. Kayla’s Playground was built in nine days with the assistance of almost 2,000 citizen and business volunteers who worked closely with paid and volunteer Franklin Department of Public Works and Engineering Department employees. The 12,000 square foot all-accessible and all-inclusive playground – housed at the City-owned Franklin Woods Nature Center – was completed in September.
Here is the city’s application submitted to the Public Policy Forum:
Public Policy Forum, 2016 Nomination for Public-Private Cooperation
- Evidence of teamwork between one or more public sector and private sector entities in addressing a mutual problem or improving performance in a specific service or program area.
The primary focus of Kayla’s Krew was inclusion for all abilities in their mission to build a Playground in the City of Franklin. Many playgrounds in city parks have very limited accessibility and almost no inclusive components. Kayla’s Krew had committed to obtaining the most inclusive equipment on the market to include all abilities in the activities of play. With inclusion at the center of their mission, it only seemed natural for Kayla’s Krew to team with many local public and private sector partners. Kayla’s Krew had collaborated with many organizations including Penfield Children’s Center, the City of Franklin, Franklin Public School District, Greendale Public School district, MSOE Servant Leadership, Roundy’s Supermarkets and many other local businesses, schools, groups, organizations, and churches. Whether it was through fundraising efforts or building the playground, there were many opportunities for private and public sector entities to work together for the common good of the community.
- Evidence of measurable success in implementing the cooperative approach.
Kayla’s Playground was built by the community in a total of 9 days with the assistance of almost 2,000 citizen and business volunteers who worked hand in hand with paid and volunteer Department of Public Works employees. Many private restaurants donated food to feed three shifts of volunteers per day. MSOE Servant Leadership students designed and installed the Kayla’s Krew musical bridge and are currently working on designing the Sponsor and Donor Board and will install on-site when finished. Dawes Crane donated a crane to place the roofs of the 5 treehouses on the playground. Sunbelt Rental, Franklin High School, Harry’s ACE Hardware, Snap On Tools all generously donated tools and equipment.
Constructing this playground as a matter of municipal contracting would have taken months longer at a substantial (arguably prohibitive) cost. Photo and video documentation of the tremendous team work are readily available both from the City of Franklin, news media and social media covering the positive efforts of the community build.
The 12,000 square foot all-accessible and all-inclusive playground was completed on September 27th, 2015 and a ribbon cutting ceremony was celebrated on October 9, 2015 with more than 1,000 citizens, children and public officials in attendance. As a testament to the inclusiveness of the project numerous instances of the interaction of all abilities sharing playground equipment are documented in photos and videos. At many points at the ceremony and regularly since, children in wheelchairs line up to use the only wheelchair accessible swing, the Liberty Swing, offered in Milwaukee and Waukesha County. This special piece of equipment is manufactured in Australia and does not require the user to get out of the wheelchair to swing. Some other inclusive components include the accessible Merry-Go-Round, Stainless Steel Slides and wide accessible ramps and rubberized PIP (Poured in Place) Surfacing. Visitors to the playground come from all nearby communities even in the winter as well as in increasing numbers this spring. Volunteers routinely visit the playground and take time to make sure the area is neat and clean by assisting Franklin Public Works employees in the routine care of the playground and park located at Franklin Woods Nature Center (3723 W Puetz Rd, Franklin, WI)
The City of Franklin provided labor assistance through the Engineering Department (acting as project management and general contractor) and the Department of Public Works (equipment, operators, technical support and logistics). It’s important to note that with the support of the Franklin Common Council and city employees volunteered their time to work on the project. Citizens worked alongside the mayor, elected officials, fire and police chief, DPW, planners, secretaries, police officers and fire fighters. Many of these people, while their daily roles are to serve and protect the City of Franklin and its citizens, the build created an opportunity for each of them to work together with many citizens for the greater good of the community.
Lessons learned that may be relevant for other governments seeking to establish public-private partnerships.
From an elected officials perspective, we elected need to recognize the desires and talents of our community members and work with them to enable and encourage the dreams and projects that they bring to us. We need to find a way to say “yes.” All too often we wrap ourselves in our rules and ordinances. This project is a testament to creativity, flexibility and patience
This is a public/private community building program to provide one aspect of life improving facilities that can teach, treat and provide a safe and fun recreational environment for everyone in the community, regardless of their physical ability. The project went far beyond meeting “ADA Requirements” in including all abilities in play, but also in the design of the restrooms provided This is certainly a project that would not have been generated by a municipality on its’ own.
The biggest lesson to be learned is that the community will respond and work together for a great cause. Franklin is a much closer community today than it was a year ago because of this project.
Franklin worked with the City of Kenosha while they were building their “Dream Playground” just ahead of Franklin. Together the communities shared tools, material, expertise and experience to improve both projects. Today, the City of Franklin has offered assistance to the City of New Berlin along with Kayla’s Krew and will be assisting New Berlin in construction of their all-inclusive, all-accessible playground at Malone Park
Throughout the process, not just at City Hall meetings, but at the construction site, Steve Olson was there to make sure the project became real.
Believe me, at this point Olson wishes I would just conclude this blog. But I can’t.
Today Olson is being trashed by detractors. One, of course, is his opponent, a disgraced, recalled former Franklin alderman. You’ll not see Kayla’s Playground mentioned in any of his campaign material. You’ll not see photos of him at Kayla’s. That’s because he wasn’t there. he had absolutely nothing to do with the project, period.
One of Olson’s opponent’s biggest supporters is current Franklin Alderwoman Kristen Wilhelm who frequently voices her opposition to Olson on social media. Wilhelm constantly fights any plans by Olson to advance the city. That would have included Kayla’s Playground. Wilhelm was a major obstructionist to Kayla’s on the Franklin Common Council. Why? Because she proposed a site for the playground somewhere else. When that got shot down, and she could no longer feed her massive ego and take credit for the playground location, Wilhelm pouted and had a hissy fit, and often objected to any future plans to move the project along. Wilhelm was a no-show at the groundbreaking and Grand Opening. Like Olson’s opponent she had absolutely nothing to do with this tremendous project.
Another obstructionist was former Franklin Alderwoman Susanne Mayer, so inept and so anti-Olson that she even opposed adding more benches at the playground for patrons to sit. Today she joins Wilhelm in seeking his defeat. But at least she did show at the playground to help with construction before it was opened, far more than Wilhelm.
Kayla’s Playground is a gem. Steve Olson deserves a great deal of credit. And he deserves Franklin’s vote on April 7, 2020.
Franklin voters, please share with your friends and neighbors.