New Billion Pavilion to add accessible playground at Sanford Children’s Hospital

A new park featuring playground equipment designed for pediatric patients is coming to Sanford Children’s Hospital.

Billion Pavilion is funded entirely by donors through an effort that includes a lead $1 million gift from David H. and Christine Billion.

The park will include a covered picnic shelter for patients who cannot be in the sun and unique equipment such as a caterpillar climber, spring rider, patterned path routes, an Oodle Swing and sound arch.

“We know that play is very therapeutic and an important part of the healing process for children,” said Sheri Fischer, executive director of Sanford Children’s Hospital.

“Even though we are very blessed to have indoor play spaces within our Sanford Children’s castle where children can go to get out of their patient room, play for a while and just be a kid, we also know that children want to be outside and not trapped indoors when it’s nice out. This outdoor park and respite area will allow children to play and experience the therapeutic benefits of being outdoors as they heal and recover from their illness.”

Other elements in the new space include physical therapy steps and ramps for patients to do their physical therapy outside, planting gardens, workbenches, flower beds and garden benches with wheelchair space and decorative seating.

“We always knew it was a missing piece of the puzzle,” said Erin Sanderson, executive director of the Sanford Health Foundation.

“Our dream became a reality.”

The Billions “just have incredibly giving hearts,” she added. “They always have a listening ear with any project we talked to them about, but specifically when it comes to our pediatric population, they are so driven and dedicated to make sure local kids have what they need. And sometimes what they need is some play and some fun.”

Often, kids going through cancer treatment can’t be exposed to sunlight, so the Billion Pavilion was designed with shaded space to play games or do physical therapy, Sanderson said.

“It’s an extension of their home, for sure,” she said.

The area is under construction and will be fenced, accessible only with badge access, “mostly just for sanitary reasons,” Sanderson said.

Other large donors to the $1.4 million project include Henry Carlson Co. — which also is building it —  Panda Express and Northwestern Mutual.

The climbing caterpillar will be named “Henry” in honor of Henry Carlson Jr., who died last year at age 97.

Donations are being accepted to assist in providing additional enhancements and maintenance for the park into the future.

The project is scheduled to be complete in October in time for the return of Sanford’s annual Children’s Gala fundraiser.

The hope is to enhance indoor play areas to complement the outside ones, Sanderson said. That includes a therapy gym play space and the completion of Truman’s Closet, which will be filled with costumes in honor of Truman Pins.

“The goal is by 2024 these kids have anything they need for beautiful and accessible play spaces,” Sanderson said.