|Today's date: Tuesday May 21, 2013||Vol 46 Issue 20|
We Cover The County...
Speers wants Stait Park to become first barrier-free park in Centre Wellington
by Mike Robinson
Andy Speers and a number of other local residents believe that local playgrounds should expand their horizons by making them barrier-free.
And following his presentation on Aug. 13, it looks like Centre Wellington councillors share that vision.
Acting CAO Andy Goldie noted that Speers had met with recreation staff several times and made a recent presentation before Centre Wellington’s parks, recreation and cultural advisory committee earlier this year.
“Basically what they are trying to do is fundraise for the first accessible play structure in Centre Wellington.”
Goldie noted that Stait Park is located in Speer’s neighbourhood which is keen on this being done.
A survey of the area indicates there are at least 300 people in support of the project.
While it is a smaller park, and larger structures are generally required for accessibility, Goldie said that given the keen interest in the local community, Speers and others believe they can fundraise the majority of the money required.
“It’s an exciting project, and the parks and recreation advisory committee were very supportive along with staff. We feel this is a great opportunity to provide an accessible structure within our community.”
Goldie added that the Power of Play group is equally interested in helping other parks in Centre Wellington provide more accessible play areas.
“This is just a stepping stone.”
He noted drawings of the parkland itself have been provided to the playground manufacturers to ensure designs provide the best financial impact.
Goldie stressed the remainder of the park would still remain green space which would allow its continued use as an outdoor rink in the winter months.
Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj quipped that when she first heard about the project, she had to look up where Stait Park was located.
In a report to council, Matt Tucker, manager of parks and facilities operations, noted Stait Park is a small neighbourhood park located in Fergus at the intersection of Garafraxa Street E. and Provost Lane.
The park contains an old swing set, small climbing structure, and a green space which in the winter converts to an outdoor ice rink operated by the neighbourhood.
Tucker wrote, “The play equipment is old, does not meet current play equipment guidelines, and will require replacement in a few years. The equipment has been identified within the parks and recreation life cycle replacement for 2017.”
The group has requested a letter of support from the township which will aid the group in seeking out various grants for the project.
The group also wishes to install a small sign in the park which will help show what they are planning for the park to park users and to assist in fund raising for the project. In addition the Township’s Finance Department will be providing tax receipts for cash donations to the project as the final project will be Township owned.
Prior to any play structure being installed in the township will have to approve all aspects of the project and specific equipment details as it is the intent that once the equipment is installed the township will own and maintain the equipment.
Speers said he was representing a community group that he and his wife helped create.
“We are attempting to build Centre Wellington’s first fully accessible, barrier-free playground structure.”
“We really feel that the need is there and that the time is now to do this.”
He said many residents of Centre Wellington have some form of disability.
Though people automatically think of wheelchairs when creating an accessible playground, Speers said “It as a playground would help children and adults with visual, cognitive or other special needs. It would be a park surrounding all different kinds of disabilities.”
Speers said there are four companies bidding on the project and he is hoping to post those designs in the park area - with council’s approval - to generate community input as to what is actually going in there.
“We want to get the kids involved as well - such as what equipment they would play on, and what they would not.”
A recent kickoff garage/bake sale last weekend drew over 1,000 people, drawing attention to the project and raising over $3,600.
“We remain committed and have just shy of $20,000 within two months.”
Speers said a number of local businesses and service clubs are very interested “to the point of asking us to come in to make a presentation.”
He said “We are attempting to fundraise for the entire project ourselves, but we do realize that is a big feat.”
Speers said at some point there may be a need to look at financial assistance, “but not at this point.”
In addition to future fundraising projects, Speers said there are still meetings with business owners, service clubs and grant applications to be made before coming back to council regarding the financial side of it.
Originally, Speers had thought a projected cost of $100,000 to $150,000 would be reasonable, but current estimates exceed that amount.
“The rubber base for the structure costs about $90,000 to install.”
That alone, increased the overall cost, Speers said.
Now, the projected cost is between $175,000 to $200,000.
He said one of the issues is the cost for an accessible playground is much more than traditional playgrounds - because of the poured in rubber, the ramps and specialty items.
“These things are not mass produced like traditional play structures, therefore the cost is more.”
But he added, from the beginning our group thought “just because it costs more money, doesn’t mean it is not the right thing to do.”
Speers said in September he plans the start of an annual ball hockey tournament which will draw 16 teams and have the potential of raising over $10,000.
“If we did that year after year, it could add accessible components to other parks in Centre Wellington.”
He said there will be a lot going on, with events spread out every few months to keep the ball rolling.
“Every little bit helps.”
Speers noted he cannot apply for any grants, until the project has the stamp of approval from council.
He anticipated there are numerous types of grants available for this type of project.
Speers said that while Stait Park is in a quiet little neighbourhood, it is quite central to Fergus.
“Not only is it our community trying to raise funds, we believe it is the perfect spot for an accessible park in Fergus because of its quiet surrounding streets.”
He also added it is a park that desperately needs updating, “and is nowhere near today’s safety standards.”
He contended there are thousands of residents within a 10 minute walking distance, but there is also considerable space for parking along the side of the road.
“Our goal was also to bring the community back to the park. It was incredible to see the amount of people out last weekend.”
He said the proposal would allow both children and adults in wheelchairs to access and use the equipment in the park.
Climbers would be based on age range.
Discussions have included fencing around the play structure for safety reasons in the Garafraxa Road area.
“We are also looking into the idea of a community build as well.”
But in addition to the accessible structure, the hope is to bring in some picnic tables to help other people enjoy the park.
“We would also include an accessible picnic table, where one side would be missing so that a wheelchair could roll right up.”
The last item Speers brought up was the potential of honouring local athlete Patrick Anderson, originally from Fergus.
Speers said that Anderson is in London, with hopes of being a three-time paralymic athlete.
“It would be the perfect project, putting a plaque up recognizing his successes and accomplishments.”
Ross-Zuj thanked Speers “For bringing such a remarkable project to our attention. You have certainly mobilized a lot of people and excited a lot of people. I’m sure we will want to work with you.”
Councillor Walt Visser noted that he has been involved in accessibility issues at both the provincial and county levels for the past 16 years.
He suggested Speers also make a presentation to the county accessiblity committee.
Visser believed the county accessibility coordinator could certainly provide assistance in the grants as well.
He pointed out the county offers a small accessiblity grant as well.
“It all adds up.”
Councillor Mary Lloyd said it was “a real delight to have someone here with such passion about a project which will not only benefit a small neighbourhood, but the whole municipality.”
Ross-Zuj added “this will be an exciting project to watch unfold.”
Council supported the recommendation that council support in principle a barrier free playground in Stait Park and the commitment to support the group “Power of Play” for funding opportunities, and direct staff to continue discussions with the Power of Play group and report back to Council on final project details.
August 17, 2012
The Wellington Advertiser
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