Pandemic-related challenges are slowing down construction of an inclusive playground within the soon-to-open 204-acre Classen-Steubing Ranch Park on San Antonio’s far North Side.
Classen-Steubing Ranch Park is on track to open in early fall, said city officials. Most of the park will remain in its natural state; the city is developing 43 acres, in part with money from the city’s 2017 bond program. Voters approved another $5 million for park amenities in the 2022 bond, including soccer and softball fields and walking trails.
The playground, known as Mitchell’s Landing, is mostly funded by a foundation created and named for 3-year-old Mitchell Chang, who drowned at a local swim school in 2018. The pirate-themed play area is not expected to open until early 2023.
First, the pandemic slowed fundraising down, said April Chang, Mitchell’s mother. More recently, the global steel shortage affected the production of park equipment, while overseas shipping slowdowns have delayed the arrival of other equipment.
The idea to fund a playground came from the outpouring of support the Chang family received in the weeks after his death, which occurred at the now-closed Love to Swim School during a program called Date Night, at which parents dropped off their kids for supervised swim instruction.
“People wanted an avenue to help,” she said of the period after her son’s death. “So we created the foundation as a way to allow Mitchell to still be doing his good out there and for people to be able to have that avenue, if they wanted to help, to feel like they helped Mitchell.”
April and her husband Marvin Chang established the Mitchell Chang Foundation to honor their son. When support began flowing into the foundation, the Changs decided an inclusive pirate-themed playground was how the family wanted to honor Mitchell.
“Mitchell was fun, happiness, and he was so much love… He wanted to be a pirate,” said his mom. “That is everything Mitchell. Then, families can experience the happiness or joy that he was. It doesn’t even matter if they don’t know him or the story, or they don’t think about that, because all that matters is that they have that happiness.”
The playground will be located in the 2000 block of Hardy Oak Parkway and will be accessible to children with disabilities to play and socially interact. Inclusive aspects of the play area will include a wheelchair access ramp, sensory dome, a wheelchair-accessible whirl, expression swing, fusion spinner, an in-ground bounder and more.
To date, the foundation has spent $1.5 million on playground equipment, installation and safety ground cover. The foundation is currently fundraising to buy shade covers, said April Chang. The city, which is covering the cost of infrastructure related to the playground, has spent roughly $300,00 so far, according to Connie Swann, marketing manager for the city’s Parks and Recreation department.
The Changs began a conversation with Councilman John Courage (D9), in whose district the park is located, in May 2018 about their idea to honor Mitchell by having the foundation fund an inclusive playground.
Courage said he fully supported the creation of the playground, noting it would be in addition to Morgan’s Wonderland, a 25-acre nonprofit park designed for people of all abilities to enjoy. When he first met the Changs, Courage said he thought, “What better way of honoring your child that you’ve lost through a tragedy than having them live through other children?”
Chang said the foundation is working on two additional projects beyond Mitchell’s Landing: a coloring book to help children ages 3 to 8 learn about swimming and legislation that would license and regulate swim schools.
Mitchell’s bill was introduced in the 2021 legislative session but died in committee. April Chang said they are working on reintroducing the bill in the 2023 session.