Lawrence playground invites children of all abilities to play, thanks to donation from late benefactor

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School and business leaders are gearing up to celebrate an inclusive playground for youngsters on Lawrence’s southeast side.

Featuring wide pathways and ground-level entry, the play equipment provides accessibility, no matter a child’s method of mobility.

A celebration for the William Dann Playtown will take place at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21 at the Kennedy Early Childhood Center, 1605 Davis Road. The Lawrence Schools Foundation and Lawrence chamber of commerce will host the event.

Contributed William “Bill” Dann with children

The shiny play equipment features two covered areas connected by a slightly elevated pathway, as well as bars to climb on and hang from, and a tunnel and slide. It also encourages children to use sign language via a panel that teaches the signs for play, friend, peace, love and help.

The playground was funded with a gift from William “Bill” Dann and community donors, according to a news release from the foundation. Dann died in 2020 and was known as a  generous philanthropist to community causes for seniors and children, including regular donations to early childhood programs in Lawrence Public Schools that span 25 years. His mother, Petey Cerf, founded Audio-Reader at the University of Kansas, the Ballard Center and Kansas Advocates for Better Care.

Dann’s longtime friend and adviser Barbara Braa said Dann wanted children to have the “best opportunity for an education.” Braa worked for Cerf and met Dann in the late 1980s.

“He believed heavily in early childhood education,” Braa said, noting his generous donations to the school’s foundation often accompanied naming opportunities to honor people.

“The passion for little ones, which is what he called children, he and his mother both had this. They were enamored with little children,” Braa said.

Dann was not an “early morning guy,” Braa said, but a highlight of his year was attending the foundation’s annual Community Education Breakfast and hearing “the little ones” sing.

A Facebook post by the foundation called Dann a friend who turned a vision into a reality. “The Kennedy teachers have dreamed of building this special playground for years, and thanks to all of their friends in the community, their dream came true.”

As the sun set Thursday evening, a group of neighborhood kids frolicked near the play area, which is surrounded by a fence. When school’s in session, the area is reserved for children and staff in the early childhood programs housed in the building that, until recently, was Kennedy Elementary School.

In April, the Lawrence school board voted to convert the building from a K-5 elementary school to an early childhood community center. The building houses programs for early school readiness, peer modeling, tiny-K Early Intervention of Douglas County, Parents as Teachers, and adult and special education, according to a news release from the foundation.

Contributed The William Dann Playtown is located on the campus of Kennedy Early Childhood Center, 1605 Davis Road in Lawrence.
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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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