Inclusive playground to be built inside the Maplewood Mall next fall

The first playground built by the Madison Claire Foundation is located in Woodbury and includes many of the features also planned for the playground that will be built inside the Maplewood Mall. • submitted rendering

Madison’s Place at Maplewood Mall will include rubberized surfacing, a fully ramped play structure, custom sensory tunnel, accessible sand diggers and more. It will be located on the lower level of the mall near Kohl’s department store and should be completed next year. • submitted rendering

The Maplewood Mall and the Madison Clair Foundation are partnering to build a free indoor playground that will be inclusive to children of all abilities.

The playground will have a rubberized surface and the entire play structure will be ramped, allowing people using wheel chairs, walkers or crutches access on and around the playground. There will also be sand diggers and a sensory tunnel among other inclusive features.

The Maplewood Mall has donated more than 6,700 square feet of space to be used for the project, and the playground will be located on the lower level of the mall right outside of Kohl’s. 

After construction is complete next fall, Madison’s Place at Maplewood Mall will be the third inclusive playground in Maplewood, according to Maplewood Mayor Nora Slawik. 

Slawik said another inclusive playground opened just this year in Goodrich Park, while the other is located at Beaver Lake Education Center and is run by the school district.

“One of my kids attended early childhood special [education] and that playground would have really helped him develop his social and interaction skills,” she said of the Beaver Lake playground.

Slawik said having an inclusive playground inside the Maplewood Mall will absolutely be an asset to the city. 

“Maplewood wants all of our children to have the thrill of meaningful physical play. No child should be left on the sidelines, and Maplewood Mall is the right place for this inclusive playground,” she said.

Dana Millington, founder of the Madison Claire Foundation, said the leadership at Maplewood Mall and its parent company, Washington Prime Group, reached out to her in the fall of 2016, shortly after the Madison Claire Foundation opened its first accessible playground, also called Madison’s Place, at the HealthEast Sports Center in Woodbury. 

The partnership between the Maplewood Mall and the Madison Claire Foundation became official this past spring.

“Maplewood Mall has a really good relationship with the special needs community. They do several events throughout the year that are focused just on kids with special needs,” Millington said, adding she thinks the mall is a good fit as a partner because it believes in the project.


Building in Madison’s memory

Millington, a Woodbury resident, explained she originally had the idea for an inclusive playground after the death of her daughter, Madison, who passed away due to complications from spinal muscular atrophy when she was only two years old.

“She was in a special wheelchair and she couldn’t access any of the playgrounds in our community, so after she passed and we had started the foundation I saw a story of an inclusive playground going up in California. That’s when I knew that I wanted to bring the same thing here,” Millington said.

The goal of both Madison’s Place playgrounds is to have a space that allows children with and without disabilities to play side by side.

Two features Millington highlighted when talking about Madison’s Place at Maplewood Mall were the sand diggers and the sensory tunnel.

She explained that typically, sand diggers are located within a sand pit, making it inaccessible for people with limited mobility. The sand diggers that will be in the Maplewood Mall will be located on the rubberized flooring outside of a sand pit to make sure everyone can reach the play equipment.

Millington described the sensory tunnel as a playground favorite at Madison’s Place in Woodbury, and added that a similar one will be built in Maplewood. 

“The [Woodbury] tunnel is up on the structure. It’s literally a tunnel that you go into, and we have star cutouts in different colors so that when the sun shines they shine inside the tunnel and move around depending on where the sun is during the day,” she explained.

It also incorporates glass marbles for a tactile element.

“We have found that it is a really good piece for kids with Asperger’s or autism that need to get a break from the noise or the action of the playground,” Millington said. “It’s a quieter space, and just really kind of a cool [place] for that.”


Raising funds

Construction on the playground is expected to begin in fall 2018, but first, the Madison Claire Foundation needs to raise $400,000. The foundation began accepting donations Nov. 1, and will be participating in Give to the Max Day Nov. 16. Give MN started the annual state-wide online donation campaign in 2009 to help nonprofits raise money for projects.

The foundation will continue seeking donations and sponsors after Give to the Max Day, until the financial goal is reached.

To make a donation, go to To learn more about the Madison Claire Foundation visit,


Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or

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