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Local families, officials gather for groundbreaking at all-inclusive park

M.J. Rey, left, and Owen Whitely play in dirt that was mounded for the ceremonial groundbreaking. (Rio Rancho Observer—LEE ROSS photos)
M.J. Rey, left, and Owen Whitely play in dirt that was mounded for the ceremonial groundbreaking. (Rio Rancho Observer—LEE ROSS photos)
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Gov. Susana Martinez shared a few details about her personal connection to A Park Above at the groundbreaking ceremony for the project on Saturday.

The park will be built on six acres just north of Westside Boulevard and east of Unser. The plan is to build the park on an even grade, with minimal curbs or other stumbling blocks and include playground equipment that accommodates people with physical or developmental challenges.

Before the ceremonial dirt toss, Martinez addressed a crowd of more than 100 people who gathered inside a tent, shaded from the midday heat. She was surrounded by children, some of them with disabilities, who had been called to the podium by Mayor Tom Swisstack. He introduced Martinez.

She held a small child on her hip as she spoke about her sister, Lettie Martinez, who is 56 and developmentally disabled. Martinez said when they were growing up, Lettie, like many of the people at the groundbreaking, had a hard time with traditional playground equipment.

“She’s perpetually 5 years old,” Martinez said. “To be able to swing with her would be amazing.”

She envisions the park as an all-inclusive place, where people with disabilities play with those who don’t have disabilities.

“It will be the first of its kind in New Mexico,” she said.

The city has $2 million for the park, and Martinez secured the bulk of that money, bringing some $1.5 million in state money to the project.

Jennie Schulte-Baca, who originally brought the idea to the city and has been one of the driving forces behind it ever since, also gave a short speech at the groundbreaking.

“We’re going to make magic happen on these six acres for every single person in this community,” she said.

The project was first proposed in 2009. The park will be built in phases and initial construction will take about a year.

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