College sets sights on springtime finish for Celebration Garden and Wellness Park in Barling – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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Project Budget 
The Celebration Garden and Wellness Park has a budget of slightly more than $2 million. The money has been raised through private donations.
Source: Jackie Krutsch, executive director of advancement of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education
BARLING — A new park dedicated to celebrating life and supporting healthy living is coming to the Chaffee Crossing area later this year.
The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education in Fort Smith is building a Celebration Garden and Wellness Park east of the Village at Heritage, a nearby set of commercial and residential spaces it owns in Barling.
Jackie Krutsch, executive director of advancement of the institution, said the almost 8-acre park will be open to the public. Construction began in early 2021 and is expected to be finished by late spring. A dedication will be held afterward.
Krutsch said the institution’s mission is to educate and train a diverse group of highly competent and compassionate health-care professionals; create health and research support facilities; and provide healthy living environments to improve others’ lives. The Wellness Park aspect of the project is derived from this mission.
“It’s obvious from the shortages of health care professionals, from physicians to therapists to nurses, that we probably cannot graduate enough health care professionals to meet the demands,” Krutsch said. “So one of the ways to help affect the overall health of Arkansas and the region is to work at it at the other end of the spectrum by trying to help people become healthier.”
Krutsch said the Celebration Garden part is meant to celebrate life, in particular the lives of those who had their bodies donated to the institution after they died for the educational benefit of its students, as well as these gifts they provided.
Steve Core, Barling city administrator, said the park would serve as an attraction for the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education by providing a space where students can relax. He also believes residents will use the park similarly to how they use Chaffee Crossing as a place for physical activities now, such as walking and cycling.
Krutsch said one of the features of the Celebration Garden and Wellness Park is a small lake. A walking trail will surround the lake and run throughout the park, totaling slightly more than a quarter of a mile. The trail will connect to both Fort Smith’s trails and greenway master plan and a trail system on the institution’s campus it plans to develop further.
The park will also have a playground area, an exercise equipment area for adults and a large pavilion furnished with audio and visual projection equipment that will be available for meetings and outdoor classroom activities.
“We want to do a lot of presentations in wellness and mindfulness, yoga, those types of things, and that will all take place in the pavilion,” Krutsch said.
This pavilion will be named the Degen Wellness Pavilion in honor of a $500,000 gift from the Degen Foundation, a Fort Smith-based nonprofit group, according to Krutsch. The park’s celebration garden and memorial area will feature a labyrinth at the request of another donor for the project.
Other features will include bathroom facilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a bicycle repair station and a pet watering station, according to Krutsch. Local architect Chasen Garrett designed the project, with the Natural Dam-based Rick Mooney Construction being the builder.
Krutsch said Teressa Brown, dean of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education’s School of Physical Therapy, and Jennifer Moore, dean of its School of Occupational Therapy, were involved in selecting equipment to ensure the park would be both Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant and useful in teaching their students.
Moore said the School of Occupational Therapy faculty will use the Celebration Garden and Wellness Park as a teaching tool. Students in the program learn about the value and principles of inclusive design for things such as places and equipment as part of the curriculum, which they will be able to learn by analyzing the inclusive playground equipment at the park, she said.
“Furthermore, our occupational therapy students can observe and interact with children with all abilities as they play on the equipment — allowing them to see firsthand how the design of the equipment ‘levels the playing field’ so all children have the opportunity to play,” Moore said. “This teaching approach is much more valuable than reading the material out of a book or listening to a lecture.”
Moore said her program can also use the park as a space in which to hold meetings or classes outside or take breaks to relieve stress.
Barling has two city parks, according to Core. It also has Springhill Park, which belongs to the Army Corps of Engineers.

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