Gardening shovels stood ready.
With half the playground at Dickinson Park razed behind them, and a sign displaying the future playscape nearby, a small gathering of officials and playground supporters held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new playground at Dickinson Memorial Park on Tuesday, October 22. Construction will begin as soon as the old play area is removed. Recreation crews began disassembling Funspace earlier this month.
Bidding farewell to “an old friend,” Funspace, a playground built in 1989 through community and volunteer efforts, Parks and Recreation Director Amy Mangold looked ahead to the new play features that would take its place.
On Tuesday, as autumn leaves skipped in the breeze, Jennifer Chaudhary said, “It’s sad to see it go …” But minutes later she and others were celebrating the new playground, a nearly $800,000 venture made possible through the town’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funding and private donations.
This past summer, Ms Mangold had said the final project will spread over roughly 1.5 acres with natural elements, climbing stones, built-in musical instruments, a zip line, and ADA accessibility, while retaining the familiar feel of the wooden play features with new play value and elements and a water area with sand. The new play area will offer “an environment that provides a great way to help restore our familiar feel of Dickinson Funspace but reconnect children with nature and imaginative play.”
Speaking briefly before enjoying a light lunch awaiting them under an awning, celebrants shared thoughts.
Ms Mangold remembers being one of many who “schlepped through the mud,” and probably lost a shoe, volunteering on a very rainy day to help with the community-built Funspace. She spoke of communications with one resident that needed to go out of town to find a wheelchair accessible playground for her child.
Recalling the mother’s letter of six years ago, she said the mother had written, “Why? Why can’t our town consider a play area where special needs kids can be included?”
Glad to point out the rubber safety surface that will replace the woodchips surrounding Funspace, Ms Mangold said, “That was six years ago, and it shows how we couldn’t allow handicapped [children] to play as well … it’s time to retire our old friend and celebrate a new playground.”
State Representative Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) credited the efforts of First Selectman Pat Llodra, and Newtown, “its resources, its people, for coming together to accomplish amazing things.” He glanced at the sign with a rendering of the new play area, designed by resident and landscape architect Billie Cohen, saying, “Everything in this is so beautifully designed.”
The new playground represents “a place of hope, a place of the future,” Mr Bolinsky said. He also nodded toward a gathering of people in attendance who were among project donors.
“Keep in mind that the scope of this project was made possible through private donors.” He added, “I can’t wait for the ribbon cutting.”
Mrs Llodra said, “We’re extraordinarily blessed by the generosity of people who responded to 12/14.” Following the school shootings, donations and offers of help and support flooded Newtown. Some donations were intended for a playground, and the scope of Parks and Recreation’s new play area, already in planning stages, had doubled.
She credited the recreation department and commission for “keeping us on a steady path to develop our parks.” Thinking of Dickinson as a “gentle park” for young children and families, the goal of all the town parks is “to have a place for every child and family to feel connected.”
Original playground planning prior to 12/14 was much broader than the roughly $430,000 Mrs Llodra felt the town’s CIP could support. Ms Mangold’s department reduced its scope, and when benefactors came forward and learned of the full vision, they supplemented it, Mrs Llodra explained.
Among park donors present Tuesday were Skip Morton, Aaron M. Scott, and David Roth with RBC Wealth Management of Stamford with a $20,000 check.
Also joining the ceremony from New York was Marc Pintel of Pintel For The Homeless. He started his charitable organization to assist homeless families and children in the New York area.
“It’s an honor to be part of this,” he said. Although he did not lose anyone in 12/14, Mr Pintel said, “I wanted to help.” He said he lost a piece of his heart on 12/14, “But we’re here and ready to help.” Along with other gifts he gave to town officials Tuesday, he said, “I hope the playground provides healing and strength for all who use it.”
Ms Cohen offered her “greater vision” for all of Dickinson Park, of which the playground would be “at the heart.” She hopes to see the entire park restored to its natural habitat and see it as a “nature sanctuary where healing can happen, and laughter and play.” She said, “We have to reconnect to nature.”
The new playground, which includes features spread along a path meandering through butterfly gardens, will include climbing rocks, musical instruments, rope climbing, play structures, swings, water and sand tables, picnic areas, a zip line, and grassy play areas, all wheelchair accessible. Ms Mangold anticipates construction will soon begin, and hopes the new play space will open next summer.