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Space Chickens brainstorm for Kate’s Kause project

The FIRST Lego League Elmira Space Chickens presented their ideas for a new accessible washroom facility in Gibson Park to a panel of experts before turning their attention to their robot game. From left: Lily Hopper, Grace Passmore, Emily Tettman, Hayley Brown, Jamie Meissner and Jarod Wight. [Veronica Reiner]

A group of talented young tinkerers is back at it again this year, putting their heads together to support a local cause.

The FIRST Lego League Elmira Space Chickens team brainstormed ideas for an upcoming project in the community: an accessible washroom, scheduled to be installed by next summer at Gibson Park (Kate’s Place for Everyone).

Aimed at promoting inclusivity, the project is the latest endeavour of Elmira charity Kate’s Kause.

After plenty of brainstorming, the Space Chickens presented their findings for their “City Shaper” Lego League theme to a panel of experts – Luke Passmore of Frey Building Contractors; Jeff Smith, Woolwich deputy clerk and representative of the Grand River Accessibility Advisory Committee; and Kelly Meissner, founder of Kate’s Kause – on September 20.

It painted a clearer picture for all involved as to what the finished product might look like. As the kids listed off ideas, the experts helped determine which plans were realistic, and what might not be.

One of the suggestions, for instance, involved installing a seat in the washroom in order to make the experience more comfortable for the caregiver, an idea welcomed by Meissner. 

“Our experience with Kate is that we’re often in a regular, even an accessible stall, and I’m crouched in front of the toilet supporting her. I can’t sit in a squat for 20 minutes for the rest of my life, so we need to make sure that we’re taking care of the caregiver,” said Meissner.

“One simple thing we noticed instantly in the Costco family washroom is that they just put a chair there. That changed the game immediately – a chair made a difference.”

She added that it could shape what true accessibility looks like, and that she feels that many spaces do not consider the caregiver in that situation. Supports such as chairs or benches are also feasible from a construction standpoint.

“It could be very manual and very simple: just a bench that comes down and is secured to the wall. If you’re using the chair, you can operate whatever mechanism is holding it. … That’s a great idea,” said Passmore.

This was one of several ideas brought forward that got a thumbs up from the panel, among others. An emergency help button was approved for the accessible washroom. The button can be activated from inside the stall in case of an emergency; it consists of audio and visual signal devices and is mandatory for these types of washrooms under the Ontario Building Code.

Other ideas brought up included an automatic toilet paper dispenser, an automatic door lock, motion sensor lights, playground power, security camera, art competition, handlebars, and a bidet.

“You could just have a genderless washroom,” suggested Space Chickens member Lily Hopper, noting that it can be awkward for opposite gender child-and-parent heading into the same washroom.

That idea also got a nod, along with the idea that high privacy stalls could be an option. Based on the feedback received, the kids will further research and refine their ideas, then meet again with the contractor in the coming months.

The collaboration of the Lego League and Kate’s Kause was a natural one: Kelly’s son, Jaime, is a member of the Space Chickens team.

The project to raise money for this project has been ongoing; Kate’s Kause launched a 20:20 campaign in June to raise funds for the $200,000 cost of an accessible washroom.

Now, the dream is becoming a reality. The 20:20 campaign raised some $18,000, and other sources have committed funding to the project, including at least $11,000 from the Raymond Dietrich Memorial Barbecue, Wallenstein Feeds, and Wilfrid Laurier University’s CPAC grant.

“We have $45,000, and we’re waiting on Trillium grant,” said Meissner. “The nice thing is that the township has this in their budget, so this is happening.

“We’ve done really well because this idea came spur of the moment in May, and here we are $45,000 in.”

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