Riverside Park Advocates Split On Playscape Transfer

Proposal would bring playground equipment from Veterans Field to East New London

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.

Committee discussion

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.

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Wayne Vendetto January 15, 2013 at 02:22 PM
Bud, the suggestion was not to use FEMA funds, it was to use the funds from a claim that was submitted for damage at Riverside, caused by Huricane Irene last year. Tambria, no war, simply a request to have a playscape in a park. Every park used for recreation in the city has one. I would love to hear your reasoning why Riverside should be the exception.
Wayne Vendetto January 15, 2013 at 03:29 PM
To clarify, that claim was submitted to the City's private insurance carrier, not the Feds.
Sue P. January 15, 2013 at 03:58 PM
For the first time in like forever I agreed with Councilor Hyslop last night. There is a elite group of people that think this park is theirs and they shall do what they see fit. Councilor Hyslop said why are they doing a study only in the East of New London? He said he also would like to go to the park as a resident of New London not just the East side. I think the first step is to get the play scape up. If you build it we all will come. I want to take the kids to the park and we want to play. TODAY!
RED DOG January 15, 2013 at 04:18 PM
Treat every citizen equal, treat every part of the community equally, put the playscape, from Veterans Field at Riverside Park. if not parks and recreation should budget fro a new one just like all the other parks in the city.
Bud Wizer January 15, 2013 at 04:31 PM
I know you mean well and you're a fellow Democratic Town Committee member whom I respect and admire, Tambria. But I think I"ve been here much longer than have you and, no offense intended, it strikes me as absurd that a resident of the Hodges Square neighborhood actually thinks residents other than those trapped in our three towering warehouses for the poor would use the playscape in the shadow of those horrifyingly demeaning residences. And as to a "war?" Again, you've not been here long enough to adequately understand, Tambria, that the war between interests within south-of-the-hospital and up-and-around-Conn and the interests of those "core" neighborhoods where tenants and homeowners are the mix has been this city's political dynamic, as far as I can see, since I first arrived here in '64. In kindergarten I expected to be told to be nice and not use harsh words. In New London at the moment, that instruction amounts to poppycock, to use a word made famous by "Tricky Dick." Spare me the scolding, please. Also please, spare me the bit about Hodges Square residents, like you, having all they need for recreational amenity at the moment. It's the Thamesview kids and parents that need the most help, not homeowners or middle-class tenants worried about whether the park can be turned into a place that might make them feel like they're living in Mystic. Notice the for-sale sign and the recent changes in ownership for some other Hodges Square properties? That's the story.
Kathleen Mitchell January 15, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Tambria, Your comment :"All residents in the area have two perfectly fine and relatively new playscapes that are accessible to all, so wait and do it right." fails to address the question at hand which is "Should there be a playscape at Riverside Park?" I suspect that your ongoing and passionate support for selling Riverside Park to the CGA makes you less than an objective commenter on what might be appropriate or best for the park and the families and children who use it. Neither a school playground nor a playground situated on a busy intersection with no safety barriers located a distance away from the park equals a playscape in a park where visitors can and should rightfully expect to see one-and they do elsewhere in our fair city, like Toby May, Caulkins and Mahan Parks, etc- just not in Riverside Park, located in East New London, the most densely populated section of our city with the highest percentage of non-owner occupied housing and the highest percentage of minority population. Why do you think that is?
Thomas Cornick January 15, 2013 at 06:47 PM
There is a disagreement which the Day will color as a fight in the interest of raking mud and selling newsprint to the detriment of the city which unfortunately hosts them. Parts of the park are somewhat unspoiled with native plants and other things lost to an urban envionment which should be taken into consideration. And parts of the park need to be a place where a kid can run wild and earn a skinned knee or their first cast weather the playscape is platinum or plastic. Allowing the Day's malfeasance or Kathleen's dementia color the choices beyond the balance that must develop is a sideshow which distracts from a common goal of having a park for all and a city that thrives. There is enough volunteer and goodwill labor to install a playscape new or old a half dozen times until and optimal solution in balance with the wonderful asset we have preserved to make this a non issue. Where then is all the difficulty? This leaves only two real questions, can we pick a spot for a playscape, and can we relocate it just as fast as our knowledge expands and our options unfold.
--Robert January 15, 2013 at 07:04 PM
Riverside's a big park. There are plenty of places the now-unused playscape can go without interfering with the plans that may be specific for other areas of the park, and which could very likely be years down the road. As councilor Hyslop says, “If one was in place now, you could always seek funding for a second." I see no logic for delaying installation now. With due respect to the many people who are involved in the saving and resurrecting of Riverside Park, I think it's foolish to turn down a real beneficial, low cost addition to the park that can be installed immediately. It's so important to bring folks to the park now and offer them things to do. This accomplishes that along with being a true benefit for kids for exercise and play. We can all have meetings (which, yes, I have attended and provided input) till we're blue in the face. Action speaks far louder. Don't turn down this opportunity hoping for something more perfect to come along.
Carol D. Fox January 15, 2013 at 08:23 PM
@Kathleen and Sue P: I agree with both of you, If there is playground equipment that can be moved to Riverside, it should be moved. It's all well and good to have a vision for what some want for Riverside Park, but visions don't always come to fruition. The playscape should be moved immediately.
Jeff Brown January 15, 2013 at 08:32 PM
If the people in that area want a playscape then give it to them . As long as it's in good structural condition and isnt a huge piece of junk (which i'm sure it's not) then where is the issue here. New London has bigger fish to fry than this, just get it done and move on. This is starting to sound like the worst A-team episode ever. And as far as cost to move it I'll get 5 of my buddies together and it'll be done in a day. You guys supply the beer.
Carol D. Fox January 15, 2013 at 08:45 PM
@Jeff: The article did say that the cost of $56,000 was mainly for a poured in place safety surface. I wonder if some of the money could be obtained through corporate donors.
Ken January 15, 2013 at 08:46 PM
Amen. And, as for the playscape inhibiting grant money, I suspect the opposite is more likely to be true. The strongest case for winning a grant is made by demonstrating a need. Put the playscape in the park and demonstrate it is inadequate to serve the needs of the patrons. That data will justify getting grant money to enhance or otherwise upgrade it. But, if the park is able to exist with no playscape or any other structures, then you have lost your justification for a grant. [The response to the grant proposal is likely to be, "Hey, the park seems to be doing just fine as is, why sink money into it?] Rather than postponing any development activity until NL has a grant in hand, NL will be better off doing whatever it can to encourage park usage now, and then using that data to leverage grant money. Furthermore, the Conservancy is advocating rehabilitating and adding to the number of grills in the park. Great! That encourages family picnics. What are you supposed to do with your 6-year olds while trying to lite the grill? Let the older ones keep an eye on them at the playscape. It seems to me that a playscape dovetails nicely with the Conservancy's short-term plan of getting the grills ready. Then, when the grant money comes in, upgrade the playground to whatever the Parks & Rec Dept agrees. But please don't ask NL's residents to wait on affordable recreational activities for their families for the sake of future plans.
Ken January 15, 2013 at 08:53 PM
And, why is a poured in place safety surface required? The Consumer Product Safety Commission's Public Playground Safety Handbook lists (in alphabetical order)-- • Any material tested to ASTM F1292, including unitary surfaces, engineered wood fiber, etc. • Pea gravel • Sand • Shredded/recycled rubber mulch • Wood mulch (not CCA-treated) • Wood chips as appropriate for playground surfaces.
Thomas Cornick January 15, 2013 at 10:03 PM
I will buy a few yds of peastone to get this rolling with the understanding that if we end up moving the playscape a time or two we do so for best outcome. I think there are quite a few others that would step up and buy what we need to get this going. How do we ask the city to act or move out of the way? I don't think once a first step is taken we will lack for anything, it's just too easy to fix.
Johnny Habanero January 15, 2013 at 10:29 PM
What a bunch of crap this is. No wonder why no one wants to move to New London. For all the things people could be putting effort into changing in the world and in this city, they are going to make it putting in some swings and a slide. So, the city does it tomorrow to appease all these morons. What will happen, it gets covered in snow until spring? Good idea..... Come back to reality. The cost of this project is the equivalent of one police officer or fireman's salary for a year. What is more important? I watched Kathleen Mitchell's show the other night and cannot believe how some people have gone nuts over a play scape and think because it is a more minority neighborhood, that is the reason why the city will not budge. Grow up folks, put your priorities in order. A play scape is not going to keep our kids safe in school, take guns off the streets, help the homeless, or decrease crime. But what it will do is let people like Kathleen go "Weeeeeeeeeeee" as she goes down the slide. Lets hope the money is not wasted.
Wayne Vendetto January 15, 2013 at 11:55 PM
Hey Johnny, if you can name me one cop or firefighter in the City of New London who makes 20 somthing grand a year (actual cost), I will be the first moron, to shut my mouth about a playscape. Just one, I'll be waiting. I will even shut my mouth if you can figure out how to fund all the costs associated with a cop or fire fighter for 50 grand
Ken January 16, 2013 at 12:18 AM
I agree with you, Johnny, the City should not need to spend so much time on this. The Public Works Dept. should have moved that playscape without any fanfare a year ago. And, yes, the cost that the Public Works Dept is quoting is unbelievably high! I suppose it may be an accurate quote, but I have not heard a reason given why this particular playscape requires that particular surface. I have taken my kids to dozens of playgrounds and I think most of them have had either pea gravel or woodchip surfaces. My best guess is that $20k buys an awful lot of woodchips, maybe even more than what is needed for the playscape! ;-) So, I agree with you again why spend $56k to move the playscape when that money could be spent on higher priorities. And, yet again I agree with you, Johnny! A playscape will not keep our kids safe in school or any of the other things. What it will do, as I am sure you meant to indicate, is make Riverside Park incrementally more functional and serve as tangible evidence that the municipal government has not forgotten the people who live north of the hospital. If that happens every year then in 5 years Riverside will be greatly improved and residents will feel very happy about their government. Yes, why now in the dead of winter and not early last May? A very good question! And, why wait until Feb 13 when the Conservancy already said their plans will not be implemented until 4 or 5 years?
Wayne Vendetto January 16, 2013 at 12:27 AM
I would also pay you 50 grand to see Kathleen Mitchell go "Weeeeeeeeeeee", down the slide
Jeff Howard January 16, 2013 at 12:55 AM
Lets just get something there for the kids....Is it really that hard? If we were talking about any other park in NL it would already be done!
Kathleen Mitchell January 16, 2013 at 01:01 AM
Thomas, Jeff, Robert and others who have expressed interest in helping in some way to "get 'er done!" as Larry the Cable Guy says - Friends of Riverside, which led the battle to save Riverside Park, was only able to accomplish that with the help of many good people in the community, as you know, and we are hoping to succeed in moving the playscape the same way. The figure of over $50K is grossly overestimated with over $30K of it estimated for the most expensive surface which, as Ken pointed out, is not needed nor required by the state of Connecticut. Connecticut has adopted CPSC guidelines as voluntary for public use playgrounds. and "Connecticut's Department of Consumer Protection (Title 21a, Chapter 416, Section 21a-12a) required the development of a training and educational program and the adoption of standards for playground safety issues and the adoption of standards for playground equipment. The state subsequently adopted CPSC guidelines-as voluntary rather than mandatory-with an effective date of January 1, 1997 and made the annual presentation of a training and education program merely permissive rather than required." For more information on playground standards and safety http://playgroundsafety.org/standards/cpsc
Pam Strollo January 16, 2013 at 02:09 AM
I would love to have the playscape installed! I miss that playscape! On behalf of the teachers and students of Winthrop STEM School, located just above our much loved Riverside Park, get it there as soon as you can! But I would get a better deal than that price tag. I am with the guy that said he and 5 of his friends would help for free. But do get a surface that helps keep kids clean. That is the one thing that makes out newly remodeled school a mess. That playground shoe dirt is awful. Our kiddos need more exercise so I hope that this plan moves forward ASAP! Additionally, It is so great that the park's streets are plowed after a snow storm so that the park is accessible to the children:) We use the park before school starts just to get in some movement before a very rigorous day. Ms. Pam
Ken January 16, 2013 at 01:18 PM
Pam, I am so glad you are incorporating Riverside Park into your curriculum! I just saw the photos on the Winthrop School site (Taking a closer look at nature items). Abutting the west side of the basketball court are some great examples of boulders deposited by glaciers, but I don't know how accessible they are nowadays with brush overgrowth. It's a shame that you cannot currently take them across the RR tracks to the river's edge to explore estuary environments. Maybe someday that pedestrian bridge will be rehabilitated. And someday, I hope that staff from Winthrop STEM, together with the Conn College Arboretum director, and officials from NL's Parks & Rec / Public Works will sit down together over coffee. I bet among those three groups some really great, but economically feasible, ideas could be hashed out about improving Riverside as an educational resource. (I guess an obvious step would be to put some plant identification tags on some of the more interesting specimens). I will pick up the tab for the coffee!
Jack Everett January 17, 2013 at 02:48 AM
Hurricane money should be going to hurricane victims not into children's playgrounds. Where are the people that wanted so bad to save this park? Where is the support for turning this useless park into something children can use and enjoy?
Bud Wizer January 17, 2013 at 03:16 AM
You raise two very good points, Jack Everett. I'm not an insider on this Riverside Park dramaturgy, but it looks like a schism has developed between some would-be leading-edge trend setters and the normal folk who just want the goddam playscape that's not being used on Cedar Grove Ave to be moved to Riverside. Public works comes up with a cost estimate that ought to embarass the men and women who work for it. It's so high an estimate, that my first thought is they're pumping up the number so that won't have to deal with it. Then some guys say they'll donate time and money to do it. Meanwhile, the authorities who can crack the whips and make something happen, are twiddling their thumbs and "studying" the matter. The playscape, it seems to me, would be a perfect fit for the front entrance area to Riverside until the conservancy and others get their acts together. Most importantly, they ought patch the schism and stop the in-fighting. Can New London do anything right, is what I'm wondering. Imagine trying to explain this to kids. I can just see them looking up at us with sad eyes and concluding: Adults are dumb. Does that happen when you grow up?
Wayne Vendetto January 17, 2013 at 06:02 AM
Jack, the hurricane money I was referring to was insurance money received by the City for damage done to Riverside during Hurricane Irene. There were no victims, simply park damage in the specific instance I am referring to . The people that wanted to save the park, are the ones who are debating the time frame for a playscape. Make no mistake, nobody has forgotten the park, in fact, more attention than ever is being placed on it. Disagreements happen all the time, and the park will be all the better for this one. Bud, we can certainly agree that kids would have had this thing wrapped up a long time ago.
Bud Wizer January 17, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Very good to hear your positivism on this controversy, Wayne. Spring's not far away and I've little doubt that you and the others who can claim credit for rousing public will to save and improve Riverside will not drop the ball or retreat to your respective corners to pout and fret. I'm looking forward to lending a hand with the park's projects for kids this year and will make a point of requesting that the housing authority put up some notices in the highrises, in English and Spanish, letting those folk know about the park just a short walk from their door. My big question is will toilets ever again be available at Riverside Park on an everyday, daytime basis? Nothing quite so bad as heading for the public park to enjoy it and then needed to use the facilities where there are none, and, of course, having to leave. I fully expect elected city officials will say the city can't afford it, at the same time that they fund anything that might make things better for "The District.". Politics is always all about priorities, Wayne, as I'm sure you know. The Riverside Park uprising at the last election has signaled a turning of the tables in that respect, if you ask me. Good news that. Let's keep an eye on the non-profits. They have a tendency to indulge themselves in themselves.
Kathleen Mitchell January 17, 2013 at 02:21 PM
Bud, Your comment "Let's keep an eye on the non-profits. They have a tendency to indulge themselves in themselves." is closer to the truth than you might guess and I will be doing another Riverside Files on that exact issue plus very soon. It was not without good reason that I chose to resign as Chairperson of the Conservancy less than four months after announcing it's formation at a press conference at Riverside Park which I'm pretty certain you attended. My resignation was followed by two others and the planned resignation of another member had he lived. Politicians are often accused of making backroom deals and doing much of their business behind closed doors but I can assure you that they are not the only ones guilty of that abuse of the public's trust and it's past time for it to end-at least regarding Riverside Park. This November will mark two years since we won the right to keep Riverside Park and January marked a year since the forming of the Conservancy; Yet the only permanent improvement to the park was the planting of close to 2,500 daffodil bulbs which was sponsored by Friends of Riverside and enthusiastically led by Corina Vendetto. There is something terribly wrong when the attempt to locate a playscape in Riverside Park becomes a major issue and it's past time for that type of thing to end.
Holly Anderson Camerota January 17, 2013 at 02:48 PM
I just learned of a great program which the Riverside group should consider entering: Let's Play, sponsored by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. Go to http://kaboom.org/ to apply! KaBOOM! is a national nonprofit that envisions a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.A National Partner of KaBOOM!, Dr Pepper Snapple Group has made a $15 million, three-year commitment to the organization as part of the company’s Let’s Play initiative. Let’s Play is a community partnership led by Dr Pepper Snapple Group designed to get kids active nationwide. Together through Let’s Play, DPS and KaBOOM! will build or fix up 2,000 playgrounds by the end of 2013, benefiting an estimated five million children across North America. For more information about Let’s Play, visit letsplay.com.
Kathleen Mitchell January 17, 2013 at 03:04 PM
Holly, Thank you for caring enough to provide this information. We first became aware of it when someone involved with Kaboom contacted us to let us know that she had contacted the mayor's office offering to work with them on improvements to Riverside Park. There was no interest from the mayor's office so, the last time I spoke with her, they were planning to work with the city of Norwich. I suspect that whatever is going to be accomplished at Riverside will have to done in spite of any political agendas and those who support them.
Bud Wizer January 17, 2013 at 04:39 PM
I truly wish I didn't have to report this, friends of Riverside, honestly I do. But yesterday I attended the Landmark's "non-profit" forum on the continued push to gentrify our gritty, diverse, perfectly normal little American coastal city where all kinds of folks mingle and mix. As you may know, Riverside Park is central to what this group eyes as the Hodges Square Project (a.k.a. let's pretty things up because it's so ugly passing by what's there now on our way to the college, the academy and the museum.) So I ask the landscape architect for the project, a delightful man from Mystic whose heart and mind are very much in his work for good intent, what's the shortest walk between Conn College and downtown. As I expected he says down Williams to Huntington, up Huntington to the top of State Street. Since he's not a New Londonder, I go easy on him. No, says I, that's not true. It's down Crystal Ave, passing the three highrises for the poor folk that Landmarks wishes would go away, then across the pedestrian bridge over O'Neill Drive that's been so neglected by officials that it looks like something from the South Bronx. Seems to me, says I, that the Landmarks folk don't want the walkers to go anywhere near the truth, that most of the residents within walking distance of Hodges Square and Riverside Park are those hundreds of families living in our city's two largest concentrations of low-income, subisdized housing. Inconvenient truths, Landmarks? Go Wayne and Kathleen. Hoorah!


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