Plans to build an inclusive playground in Maryville are now in the hands of new organizers who are seeking $1 million dollars in grants after designs have been significantly enhanced.

Chuck Bailey presented new designs and a new strategy for the inclusive John Sevier park playground to Maryville’s council workshop Aug. 23. Bailey is secretary for the Maryville Lions Club, the new group taking the reins of the playground project.

The new designs shift a previous focus on wheelchair accession to a focus on vision impaired visitors.

With that shift comes a thorough remodeling that now includes elements like a 4-foot-high fence surrounding the area to keep children safe from the perils of running off and several canopy structures.

“We spent a lot of time in the design of the park to make sure that the caregivers of the children had a comfortable place so that they would have to get up and leave and take the children when they hadn’t finished playing,” Bailey said.

Between park benches under shading and fences to keep kids safe, the park designs have seen significant physical growth since their previous iterations.

Maryville council members gave the project their blessing at the workshop and encouraged the group dedicated to making the playground a reality to move forward.

Working for the costs

Forward movement comes hand-in-hand with increased costs. But the group is tackling these strategically as well.

“The project is approximately a million dollars now,” said Bailey. “So it’s substantially larger than some earlier versions.”

Previous estimates for the playground’s cost were between $300,000 to $350,000 according to Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks & Recreation officials.

Now the price has been boosted to a hefty range of between more than $700,000 and $1 million.

Project funding and design was originally being managed by the Maryville Kiwanis Club. They had pledged $50,000 toward the project, but backed out after concluding that raising a total of $250,000 would be an infeasible end-of-year goal.

Parks & Rec Program Coordinator Will Hubbs said when they were originally approached about the project, estimates for an inclusive park that was more accessible to Blount kids came in at under $200,000.

But with increased accessibility features have come increased prices.

“I kind of jokingly would tease the people in the (playground planning) group that, ‘Oh, what’s another $100,000.’ The price tag has just kept going up and up and up.... but with that comes the ability of the playground to serve,” Hubbs said.

The Lions Club came into the picture just before the Kiwanis Club announced they were unsure about fundraising efforts. Now they’ve taken the helm with grant writing, taking steps to secure funding from local and out-of-county sources.

The biggest grant the playground group is applying for comes from insurance network giant Blue Cross Blue Shield. Hubbs praised the group’s efforts in creating the grant and said he believes the application for the playground is one of the “most well-written and well-thought-out” the company will receive.

Bailey did not mention a specific amount they are seeking from Blue Cross Blue Shield but said they have funded projects costing anywhere from $100,000 to $5 million in the past.

“It (depends) on how Blue Cross wants to put branding in our community,” he said. “They have naming rights based on the size of the grant.”

Despite some setbacks in the effort to get the playground built, Bailey said he’s hopeful grants will come through. He feels they meet all the “checkmarks” to score the Blue Cross grant because of the community involvement in the project and the fact that Blount Memorial accepts Blue Cross network insurance.

Now, with funding options in place and a plan presented to Maryville’s council, Bailey said the group will be printing brochures this week and sending them out as soon as they can.

“We will flood the giving community,” he said, adding he hopes the project will be started January 2021 with a ribbon cutting date in March of the same year.

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