LOWELL - It was nearly nine years ago that concern for a wheelchair-bound child's inability to join other youngsters on the playground at Lowell's Buell Island Park planted the seed of an idea in the mind of then-fourth grader Patrick Arnold-McKinney.
"He was just sitting in a picnic shelter in his wheelchair, watching the other kids-he had nothing else to do," Patrick, now 18, of Lowell recalled.
He told his mom, Donna Arnold, that there should be a special swing at the park so that children confined to wheelchairs could use the playground, too.
Eagle Scout Patrick Arnold-McKinney checks out the wheelchair-accessible swing set he planned and helped install at the Buell Island Park playground in Lowell. (Photo by Sam Shawver)
"It was a dream he held onto for years. He knew about wheelchair swings and wanted to do something for those kids who couldn't do anything on the playground," Arnold said, noting her son has his own physical challenges that sometimes requires him to use a wheelchair at school.
"He has cerebral palsy. He can walk some, but he's had at least three separate leg operations over the years," she explained.
In spite of those issues, Patrick became a Boy Scout, eventually joining Troop 222 in Lowell under scout master Daryl Van Dyne, where, in pursuit of the rank of Eagle Scout, Patrick decided to design and help install a wheelchair-accessible swing set at Buell Island.
"To make that rank you have to earn at least 21 merit badges, take a leadership position, and do an Eagle Scout service project," Van Dyne said. "He planned and raised money for the playground project, and involved others, too."
Patrick said the project was-pardon the pun-no walk in the park.
"It was so much more than just a swing," he said. "We had to put down 12 inches of playground-certified mulch, install a ramp so wheelchairs could get onto the mulched area, and then put down a rubberized mat so the wheelchairs could get from the ramp to the swing."
Suspended from chains, the wheelchair swing is basically a metal platform with two ends that fold down for access, then fold up again to secure the wheelchair while the platform swings back and forth.
In addition, Patrick had two "belt" swings installed so that children not confined to wheelchairs could share in the fun.
"It took about 14 people from the scout troop and from the community working several weekends last summer to install it," he said. "We had 269 man-hours in the project."
Patrick said he received a lot of additional help from his nephew, Quinn Needs, too.
Arnold said her son had to keep a logbook to track the work, cost, and how long people worked on the project.
He also had to raise nearly $6,400 in donated cash, materials and labor in order to fund the project.
"Ewing School donated the swing set frame and the wheelchair swing, but Patrick sanded and repainted the swing to make it look like new," Arnold said.
Other materials and equipment used to construct the project were contributed by area organizations, businesses and individuals, she said.
"It was truly a community project," Arnold said, noting the project was finally completed in October.
Lowell Mayor David Pitzer said before he began, Patrick approached the village council about the proposed project.
"He gave us a presentation and plans for the playground area he intended to build," Pitzer said. "And at the end he presented us with a package that included information on all the work that had been done."
The mayor and council members, along with members of the fire department and other local organizations, pitched in to help construct the facility.
"Patrick also put a lot of effort into getting the donations and materials needed," Pitzer said. "It's a great project, and I anticipate it will get a lot of use this summer."
Van Dyne said he's extremely proud of Patrick's accomplishment.
"Patrick is a real good kid. He started out as a Cub Scout when he was young and has been part of two or three local troops," Van Dyne said.
"But he made Eagle Scout here-and was the 50th scout in my troop to earn that rank. And now he's serving as my assistant scout master."