A proposal to transfer a playscape from Cedar Grove Ave. to East New London has divided opinions among Riverside Park advocates, with some feeling the installation of playground equipment is overdue and others saying a transfer would be premature.
The issue went before the Education, Parks and Recreation Committee of the City Council on Monday. Committee members unanimously voted to send the matter to the Parks and Recreation Commission for their input.
The playscape is located at Veterans Field near the modular classrooms recently used by the Winthrop School and Nathan Hale School. Although the classrooms are being removed following a decision by the Board of Education to consolidate the student populations of Nathan Hale School and Harbor School for this year, the playscape is city-owned and will remain at the field.
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Public Works Director Tim Hanser said a relocation estimate puts the cost for the move at $56,636. Hanser said the majority of this cost is the installation of a poured in place safety surface, which he said has a 12-year lifespan and requires lower maintenance than other surfaces.
“It really can’t be put in later,” said Hanser. “It would have to be done all at once.”
Wayne Vendetto said several plans have been pitched for the park since a 2011 vote narrowly rejected a proposal to sell about half of the site to the Coast Guard Academy for the school to expand its campus. He said there has not been significant movement on putting any plans into place and suggested that other surfaces could be used to reduce the expense. Vendetto also argued that the relocation could be accomplished at no cost to taxpayers using funding sources such as hurricane relief money.
“I don’t want another generation of kids to go by without a playscape at Riverside Park,” he said.
Kathleen Mitchell also said the city should not rely on long-term plans that may not come to fruition. She said the relocation would be a tangible action by the city to invest in East New London.
“Don’t you think it’s time to let these citizens in that so frequently overlooked section of our city—East New London—know that their children are important to us, too?” asked Mitchell.
Opponents of the relocation said it should not take place before the completion of a master plan on the future of development at Riverside Park. Members of Riverside Park Conservancy, a non-profit group working to preserve and improve the park, asked for a decision on the relocation to be deferred until after a Feb. 13 workshop presenting this preliminary plan.
Cathi Strother, secretary of the Riverside Park Conservancy’s board of directors, said in a memo to the committee that participants in park planning sessions have favored a natural playscape taking advantage of the park’s location on the Thames River. The memo says the Veterans Field playscape would not be desirable for the location, since nearby playscapes are available at the Winthrop School and at Fulton Park on Crystal Ave. and the latter playscape is identical to the Veterans Field one.
“We hope that you will reconsider your support for relocating a used, generic playscape to Riverside Park, and invite you to join neighbors and other park lovers in supporting a unique, multi-generational, exciting play environment that we can all be proud of,” Strother wrote.
Ronna Stuller, treasurer of the organization, said playground equipment is included in the plan for Riverside Park. She said the group was excited by the transfer but that support waned after they examined the idea closer.
“The more we looked into it, the more we concluded that the city can do better,” she said.
Sandra Chalk, executive director of New London Landmarks, said bringing a playscape to the park at this time could inhibit future plans and grants. She also questioned whether the relocation would be the best use of money, saying the site has different qualities than other city parks and lacks several amenities such as bathrooms or running water.
“We’re really dealing with a beautiful space with almost no facilities,” she said.
Councilor Anthony Nolan, the committee’s chairman, said he wanted to have more input from the Parks and Recreation Commission as well as examination of funding sources and surfacing options. He encouraged residents, especially those from East New London, to attend meetings on the park to share their opinions. Nolan also said he supported establishing a playscape as soon as possible.
“I’m worried that if we delay this issue for two years, or up to two years, we will not be able to put a playscape in the park,” he said.
Council President Michael Passero said he was heartened that the discussion on the park’s future had attracted interest. He said the relocation question should include input from the Parks and Recreation Commission as well as the Finance Committee, but cautioned against delaying the process for too long.
“I don’t want to be in a position where we miss an opportunity to establish a playscape at the park,” said Passero.
Council President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop said he would support moving the proposal forward. Hyslop said he did not think having a playscape in place would inhibit future plans, saying there were two areas of the park with playground equipment at one time.
“If one was in place now, you could always seek funding for a second,” he said.