Pirnie Inclusive Park Groundbreaking

July 24, 2023

People posing with shovels for groundbreaking.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on July 24 for the Pirnie Inclusive Playground at Ryder Park in Grand Island. The 27,000-square-foot, $2.8 million facility will offer experiences for three stages of development, including spaces designed specifically for children ages 2-5, 5-11, and 12 and older.

The project began as a class assignment in Central Community College-Grand Island’s occupational therapy assistant (OTA) program in early 2021. Students were challenged to create a project in the community that would make a lasting impression throughout the years to help others. With help from OTA program director Dr. Callie Watson, six students envisioned an inclusive playground and took their idea to several community organizations, including the City of Grand Island, and received positive encouragement. From there, the CCC Foundation took over fundraising operations and just over two years later, 237 donors raised the $1.6 million. Additionally, the City of Grand Island committed $1.25 million in infrastructure upgrades.

“We always had big hopes and dreams that it would come to this one day and here we are,” said Bryan Klinginsmith, one of the six students. “What’s really amazing is what started out as an idea in our class is becoming a reality because of this community, and because of Central Community College standing behind its students.”

Roger Steele, Grand Island mayor, opened the program by calling it a proud day for Grand Island. Steele mentioned Del Ryder, a prominent citizen of Grand Island for whom Ryder Park is named. He said Ryder would be appreciative of the community partnerships that made the Pirnie Inclusive Playground possible. “This playground represents Grand Island’s longstanding tradition of people working together to make things happen,” Steele said.

Traci Skalberg, executive director of the Central Community College Foundation, recognized the 237 donors who raised the money to make the park a reality. “There were reasons to not pursue, to not persist, to say ‘no.’ They said ‘yes.’” Skalberg said. “A lot of people had to look fear in the face and say ‘yes.’ It would have been a lot easier to say ‘no.’” Skalberg also thanked the students for persisting even after receiving their grade for the project, as well as the CCC faculty and administration for encouraging the students and leveraging partnerships to get the students in front of the right audiences.

Dr. Joe Vavricek, co-chair of the project and founder of the Fighter Jett Foundation, expressed gratitude for being asked to take part in the endeavor. Fighter Jett is named in memory of his son, who died at age two following a severe brain injury. Before the injury, Vavricek said he looked forward to his son playing baseball at Ryder Park, and after the injury, he wasn’t sure what opportunities his son would have for play. “Now, this will be a place where his sisters can form new friends, and he can still impact the lives of so many.”

Immediately after the ceremony, crews began work on the park’s construction, which is anticipated to be complete in October.