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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.”

Support

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.

Opposition

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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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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