The smell of freshly painted asphalt still lingered in the air as hundreds of children and their families flooded through the gates of the Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined playground Sunday afternoon.
The new playground replaces the original Jonathan’s Dream playground, which opened in 1996 on the Zachs Campus of the Mandell Jewish Community Center on Bloomfield Avenue.
“We couldn’t have a better home,” Amy Jaffe-Barzach, co-founder of Jonathan’s Dream, said.
As the Kool & The Gang song “Celebration” rang across the playground, children of all abilities raced around the new equipment, testing out the new swings and zip lines and shooting hoops with UConn men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie.
The original playground was built in memory of Jaffe-Barzach's son, Jonathan Peter Barzach, who died when he was 9 months old. Jonathan was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a nerve disease that causes gradual weakness and wasting of the muscles. Jonathan died of complications from the disease on January 5, 1995.
The original, wooden playground sparked a national movement toward creating accessible playgrounds for children, but was torn down in 2012 due to wear and tear and safety concerns.
After five years of planning, Jaffe-Barzach and project manager Ronit Shoham opened the new playground to the public.
“It has been a great journey,” Shoham said. “Amy’s definitely a lifelong friend I have acquired in these long, but rewarding years.”
The 25,000-square-foot playground features equipment for all children, including swings with supports for those who need them, a treehouse play area and a central picnic pavilion. The playground was designed for free by Los Angeles-based Shane's Inspiration and features a wheelchair accessible basketball court by Kevin’s Kourts.
Kevin’s Kourts, run by Ollie, builds inclusive basketball courts across the state. At Sunday’s opening, Ollie challenged children and public officials to shoot baskets after he hung the net on the hoop.
“We didn’t see the weeds at this playground, we saw possibilities,” Ollie said. “This is a dream that came true … I want everyone to really enjoy it. Everyone is really able to be a part of this.”
Ollie said his program would partner with the Ryan Martin Foundation’s wheelchair basketball camps to host sports clinics at the playground.
Mayor Shari Cantor said she was proud to see West Hartford come together to make their community a safe, inclusive space for all people.
“I am brimming with pride for what was accomplished 23 years ago and how it has been redone to be more inclusive," Cantor said. “It has touched all of us.”