By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
The Town of Wheatfield is constructing a new, inclusive playground at Fairmount Park, and the project committee wants the community’s help to name it.
The winner of the naming contest gets a $250 gift card. The contest is open to the public – including students. The survey is live now, runs through Sunday, Oct. 15, and can be found on the town website, www.wheatfield.ny.us.
Parkitects, a playground design and build company based in Buffalo, has been selected to build the playground. Construction will start in late September, Councilmember Curt Doktor said.
“Inclusive play spaces welcome people, and especially children of all abilities to play, learn and grow together,” the website www.inclusiveplaygrounds.net stated.
Adults of various ages and abilities also can actively engage with the children in their care, according to the website, so the playground can become an enjoyable, multigenerational gathering space.
The grand-opening of the playground is planned for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 4, but the date is weather-dependent.
“Warm drinks will be served for adults and children … as the weather could be a little chilly,” Doktor said. “We will announce the selected name and congratulate the winner of our naming contest at the event. We invite all community members to attend.”
The whole idea started a little over a year ago when Wheatfield resident Cary Newman suggested it was something the town needed and should consider pursuing. Town Recreation Director Mike Ranalli said he and Doktor shared an enthusiasm for the project, as did the Wheatfield Town Council, including Supervisor Don MacSwan, and councilmembers Larry Helwig, Gil Doucet and Randy Retzlaff. Niagara County Legislator Jesse Gooch also assisted the project committee.
“From there, it kind of just took off like a rocket ship,” Ranalli said. “We were very cohesive, very efficient. It was a fun and educational process,” he said. “The way we said it to each other, it’s like we get one shot at this, so we want to make sure we do it right. The town and the residents are counting on us.” He said residents from surrounding towns will also be interested in the playground.
“I think it’s something the community is very excited about,” he said.
“Safety is the No.1 thing when you design and put in a playground,” Ranalli said. He said Newman’s original idea and her knowledge of pertinent law and safety measures were invaluable in steering the course toward the best inclusive playground.
Funds the town received from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 supercharged the timeline and were used to fund the entire project. The estimated cost for the playground, itself, is $208,000, and the special turf is expected to cost an estimated $218,000.
The new playground will have an area of 5,325 square feet and will be placed near the center of Fairmount Park. Site work has already begun, and people are welcome to check it out for themselves.
“I think this is going to give that blend and give the people exactly what they want. They get that ‘shiny new toy,’ that’s going to highlight everything that’s great about the town, and also give some of the aspects of the park that people still love,” Ranalli said. “The goal was to basically provide a playground where every single resident had access to it. I think we delivered. I’m proud of the work we did. It will be the first playground in Niagara County with the turf surfacing.”
He said most playgrounds have rubber or mulch surfacing.
“Ours is going to have turf that has anti-static qualities so children or adults with a cochlear device – like a hearing aid, they won’t feel static, especially if they have a wheelchair going over it,” Ranalli said. The turf also has antibacterial aspects to it for greater safety and health.
“Parkitects is actually going to use our playground as a featured playground when they make their pitch to other towns and organizations, because it’s going to be like a premier park,” he added. “It’s going to be the first inclusive playground in Niagara County that’s directly adjacent to an ADA-wheelchair-accessible restroom that we had installed.”
It’s already on site and will be 10 feet away from the playground, Ranalli said.
The playground will have an adaptive, anti-static roller slide; double-wide, two-way ramps instead of stairs; swings; a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round; and other special features to make it inclusive and fun.
“In the future, we hope to keep the momentum going and add a pavilion close to the site with electricity,” Doktor said. “This will allow community members to host birthday parties and events at the site in a comfortable area shaded from the sun and protected from any rain.”