LAKE STEVENS, Wash. — Special education students at Lake Stevens Middle School have a new place to hang out this fall, thanks to a year of work by a local Boy Scout.

Wesley Lawson started designing a playground at the school for his Eagle Scout project when he was 13. Staff had been considering how to make use of an open courtyard on the south end of campus, by classrooms where students with special needs spend their entire school day.

The students have conditions ranging from autism to Down syndrome, along with physical limitations. Many are working on their motor skills. Sometimes, like anyone, they need a break from sitting inside.

So the school suggested that Lawson give the kids a place to work on their balance and hand-eye coordination. And a place to have fun.

“That’s one of the things the school lacked, a place for the kids to go, other than running around the school,” Lawson said.

Lawson, now a sophomore at Lake Stevens High School, has two cousins with special needs. He was thinking of them as he poked around online and developed a few ideas: a balance beam in a zigzag shape; a wobbly plank that works as a kind of stationary skateboard; a row of stumps to climb across like stepping stones; and a couple of mobile pieces — a ladder ball game and a small basketball hoop — that can be moved inside.

Lawson and friends built the hoop out of PVC pipe, as a weekend project. The rest of the job took more than a year to plan and carry out.

“It was really hard to do, to balance it with school and family and everything like that,” Lawson said. “I wanted a challenge, to prove to myself that I could do hard things.”

In that time he learned a lot about how to design a playground, and about the red tape that comes with it. You need to cement the tree stumps many feet deep in the ground to make sure they’re sturdy and safe. You need a 6-foot open area around the stumps in case someone falls. And you need a layer of bark 12 inches thick to cushion the impact.

So by design, the playground looks wide open.

Earlier this year Lawson and about 30 others converged on the school for a three-day weekend to build it. Just about everything was donated. Marshbank Construction supplied the bark; the cement came from Cuz Concrete; the stumps were delivered by Knutsen Clearing Company; and Sahara Pizza sent the food.

“What I envisioned it looking like, and what he brought to me, it’s almost the exact same,” said Sarah Hirsch, who teaches six kids in the Life Skills program. “Sometimes it’s almost too good, because that’s all they want to do.”

So what feature is most popular with the kids?

“Whichever one everybody’s on, that’s the one they want to be on,” Hirsch said. “So they’ll go on this,” she says, gesturing to the balance beam. “And then the first person off will go over there, and that’s where they’ll all go.”

Needless to say, the kids love it.

“It was super nice to be taken care of,” Hirsch said. “He spoiled us with this one.”

Information from: The Daily Herald,

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