Ellie G's Dream World

For now, it’s still a dream.

But as each day goes by and the estimated completion date of sometime in 2023 draws closer, the inclusive playground known as Ellie G’s Dream World edges nearer and nearer to reality.

“This has been a vision for years and years and years,” Torrey Barnhill, executive director for Friends of Franklin Parks, said Tuesday night at the work session of the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. “Franklin Tomorrow took a vision trip to different inclusive playgrounds, and rallied the community and kept it on the forefront. Everybody collaborated to see how this would look and how we would fund it.”

The topic of how to fund the project was the reason for Barnhill’s presentation to city of Franklin staff and aldermen. A committee headed by Friends of Franklin Parks has announced a fundraising campaign that will officially kick off Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 3 p.m. 

The goal is to raise $1.5 million of the playground’s estimated cost of $3 million through community sponsorship. Opportunities to donate range from half a million dollars to the cost for a cup of coffee.

“If you just give $5, that’s OK,” Barnhill said. “This project is for everybody to be a part of. [We want to] get the entire community engaged.”

The park’s name, which was approved last year by aldermen, is in memory of Ellie Grace (“Ellie G”) Castro, daughter of Franklin residents Samantha and Brandon Castro and granddaughter of Alderman Brandy Blanton. Ellie G was born with an extremely rare genetic disorder related to dwarfism known as rhizomelic chondrodysplasia punctata (RCDP). Her life expectancy was less than a year, but she lived to the age of 4 before dying in September 2019 and leaving a lasting legacy.

“During her brief life, she proved to be an example of courage, strength, and joy to all who had the privilege to know her or know of her,” reads a portion of the fundraising campaign literature.

Ellie G’s Dream World will sit on 3 acres of the planned Southeast Municipal Complex located on Carothers Parkway in east Franklin. It will be four to six times larger than the Tinkerbelle Playground at the city-owned Pinkerton Park and will be designed for two specific phases. Phase One includes the play structures and park amenities along with a pavilion and plenty of shade structures throughout.

A future phase will include an outdoor fitness area and amphitheater. The inclusive playground will have fully accessible restrooms with built-in baby changing stations, as well as dedicated men’s and women’s change rooms equipped with built-in changing tables that can accommodate larger children, teens or adults. In addition to these facilities, there will be a mother’s nursing room.

As grandmother to Ellie G, Blanton is undoubtedly proud of how her granddaughter’s namesake will be viewed as a game-changer for the community’s core values of diversity and inclusion.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a destination for families who have children with special needs, so they can ambulate and participate in a way that they can’t on a traditional playground,” Blanton said. “But aside from that, it’s going to be for older people, younger people. it’s literally designed as a playground for all.

“It’s a big honor for our family, but it’s a bigger one for our community because it’s so awesome.”

Click here to see Tuesday night’s work session agenda, which includes the Ellie G proposal as the first item for discussion. From there, click on the link for Ellie G’s Dream World sponsorship packet to view the presentation and to learn more.