HARLINGEN — The city’s all-inclusive playground count now stands at four.

Vestal Park, tucked behind Zavala Elementary at 501 Lafayette Ave., is a 14-acre site primarily appealing to youth soccer players on its three fields. It consisted of a small picnic shelter and a well-used parking lot and no playground equipment.

This past week, city officials broke ground on making it the fourth all-inclusive playground designed to accommodate children with disabilities. Sidewalks and fall cushioning, lights and a new parking lot, are still to come, but the slides and rides are ready to roll.

The overall renovation of Vestal Park will cost $309,000, almost all of which is being funded by a Community Development Block Grant. The playground cost around $130,000, repaving and striping the parking lot will cost $59,000 and lighting for the soccer fields also is included at a cost of $120,000.

Calling the north side park a “hidden gem,” City Commissioner Tudor Uhlhorn of District 2 said the city’s commitment to quality-of-life improvements such as parks will continue.

“We do a lot of ribbon-cuttings and things like that that are great for our community, but there’s nothing as rewarding as something like this, for children, a new playground,” he said as he addressed the crowd gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking.

“Harlingen is really a leader in these all-inclusive playgrounds for South Texas and even the State of Texas,” he added. “We’re very, very proud this is our fourth one and there’ll be more to come.”

Mayor Chris Boswell noted this week’s return of American Airlines to Valley International Airport, the almost finished renovation of the Baxter Building downtown and the opening of the city’s new convention center at the end of the month as tangible evidence of progress.

“We utilized a stream of funding that gets less and less every year but we’re using it in the right way,” he said of the renovation at Vestal Park. “In this case, it’s in the expansion and the development of this great park, which a lot of people don’t know about.

“It’s a great little park and it’s a great place to play soccer, but now its going to be a great place for kids to play,” he added.

The all-inclusive playgrounds are designed so children with disabilities can play right alongside their brothers and sisters, even though they may be in a wheelchair, have been diagnosed as being somewhere on the autism spectrum or have another type of life challenge most kids don’t face.

Not satisfied with a single all-inclusive playground, the city built the first at Lon C. Hill Park and added similar playgrounds at Pendleton Park and Victor Park.

“Components of the playground will provide for special needs children and having the parking lot paved, which needed to be done, will also provide easy access in and out of this area,” City Manger Dan Serna said prior to the ceremonies.

“We’re going to continue to improve our parks, improve the quality of life for our citizens and our visitors, and it shows,” he added. “As you can see, we’ve done several of these playgrounds, not only playgrounds but we have a destination park that we’re also working on.”

The $8.5 million project to turn Lon C. Hill Park into a super park for residents and tourists primarily will draw on $6.4 million in funding from the Community Development Board.

Vestal Park

LOCATION — 501 Lafayette Ave.

AMENITIES — Multi-purpose fields including soccer and baseball, restrooms, covered picnic shelter, all-inclusive playground