Playground grant sought for City’s Houghton Park

Parks panel discusses project

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

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ST. ALBANS CITY — Houghton Park could have $40,000 in new playground equipment come spring.

St. Albans City has applied for a $22,000 Land and Water Conservation Fund grant from the state and has $22,000 set aside for matching funds, explained Kelly Viens, the city’s director of recreation. The matching funds are remaining from a previous project at Houghton and can only be used in the park.

At Monday night’s meeting the city’s parks commission heard from Bob Pettinelli, whose company, Pettinelli and Associates, designs playgrounds throughout Vermont and New Hampshire and in northern New York. His company designed playgrounds at nearly all of the local elementary schools.

Currently, Houghton Park, located on the city’s west side, has a fully fenced in area for preschool children and swings and climbing apparatus for older children, but not much for those in between.

The playground design that Pettinelli presented to the commission is aimed at five to 12 year olds. “I wanted it to be something any self-respecting five-year-old would play on,” he said.

The design includes several climbing sections, a suspension bridge to help kids develop balance, and multiple slides.

The suspension bridge “moves enough to let kids think they’re in danger,” said Pettinelli.

Describing some of the climbers in the hoped-for playground, Pettinelli said, “It gives them the illusion that it’s dangerous. They like that, and we like that because it isn’t.”

One of the slides has a 30-degree pitch, making it faster than many others, and grooved channels on the bottom to prevent water from accumulating.

If his company does the installation, the project would cost the full $44,000, but a supervised installation in which volunteers work with his crew over a weekend would cost $4,000 less, explained Pettinelli.

He recommended adding the new playground to the fenced in area for young children, as well as keeping the fence.

A fence keeps children separated from the parking area along the front of the park, he pointed out, adding, “There’s something to be said for making it harder for a predator.

Brian Burns, the city’s superintendent of public works, said the current fence needs to be replaced. “You can only put Band-Aids on it for so long,” he said. Chain link fences, like the one there now, are the easiest to repair, he added.

Burns suggested the commission consider relocating the fence in order to include some trees on the eastern side into the fenced in area. A seating area could be created there for parents.

The design from Pettinelli is expandable, should the city decide to add on additional pieces, which appealed to the commission. “If we build a new playground, I think we’ll see a resurgence of its use,” said Jeff Young.

Other commissioners agreed. Barbara Weinstein added, “Houghton really is where the need is greatest.”

In addition to the fence, the playground must have either wood or rubber chips beneath it. Pettinelli recommends engineered wood fiber, which is made from debarked trees. It’s possible to easily use a wheelchair on them and they absorb energy when a child falls. The purpose of putting material under the playground is to prevent concussions, he explained. It will not prevent sprains or broken bones.

The commission members also asked about fundraising for additional sections to the playground or for a new fence. Viens said fundraising isn’t part of the commission’s charge, which is to determine priorities and policies for the parks and make recommendations to the city council.

However, the recreation department routinely accepts donations for recreation, and anyone wishing to make a donation for Houghton Park could do so through the recreation department. The funds would be set-aside for Houghton, said Viens.