Lehman is the owner of Cre8Play, the New Hope company that designs and builds massive playgrounds around the country. They recently received approval to redesign the playground at Zachary Playfield in Plymouth do be accessible to kids and adults of all abilities – if the Zakkary Johnson Memorial Fund can raise the required funds.
Lehman, who lives with his family in the neighborhood near Zachary Playfield, built the current playground there 18 years ago in memory of his mother-in-law, Joyce Baker, who died of pancreatic cancer.
This isn’t Lehman’s first rodeo when it comes to designing playgrounds that need to be wheelchair accessible. This will be his first in Minnesota and it holds the special significance of replacing the playground he built.
“I was watching Channel 12 while flipping channels and during the Plymouth city council meeting, the Zakkary Johnson Memorial Fund wanted to build a playground for children of all abilities,” Lehman said. “Well that was my playground. So I called them and introduced myself.”
Zakkary was born with hydrocephalus which resulted in cerebral palsy. In 2011, Zak passed away at only 15 years old. While he wanted to have fun like any other child, his wheelchair often prevented this from happening. The fund, Lehman’s expertise and partnership with the city of Plymouth and Plymouth Community Foundation, is hoping to build this playground next year.
The theme of the playground is an undersea scene, which ties his mother-in-law to Zakkary. Lehman said that on the plaque at the park currently, is a small fish with three little bubbles, which is also on her headstone, because she loved the water and fishing. Zakkary also loved the water, he said.
“We’ll have a sand play area – a ‘beach area,’ where the ‘water’ starts. The lighter the color blue, the shallower the ‘water’ is supposed to be.” Lehman said. The new play structure will utilize the existing concrete work and elevation changes to give the illusion of greater elevation. “A typical wheelchair-accessible playground looks like a sea of ramps, and it looks like a handicap accessible playground. Once they get up there, there’s nothing but a steering wheel. This gives an immersive experience.”
Lehman has thought of everything; taking into account how hot kids can get in their wheelchairs, he has added shaded areas and misting stations that can help keep people cool. Plus, he’s hoping parents who are wheelchair-bound will play on the playground with their kids as well.
“What about a parent who might be wheelchair-bound or a Wounded Warrior?” Lehman said. “You take your child and have to sit on the ground while they play. They want to be able to play side by side along with their kids.”
The Miracle League baseball field removes barriers for children with disabilities. It’s built smaller to scale, and the field is not overwhelming to children with walking impairments. The surface is such that it allows those in wheelchairs or who need crutches to be able to play baseball without other limitations and can help to prevent injury.
Lehman’s designs and architectural plans are done and permission has been granted by the city. “Now it’s down to fundraising,” he said. “It’s a $2.2 million project. It’s a big undertaking. But it’s kids, it’s baseball. It’s America’s pastime.”