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Winchester Park Playground to Remain Open

May 16, 2019

ASHBURNHAM — While there are safety concerns regarding sharp, rusty pieces of metal at Winchester Park playground, the Parks and Recreation Committee voted Monday to keep the playground open while they work on a long-term solution.

Following public outcry over the decision to close the park two weeks ago, the committee said they reconsidered their position.

“I think we unintentionally lit a fire for our community,” said committee member Hank Parkinson. “It really shows how important this park is to folks.”

Despite safety concerns, the committee and town officials decided the town would be willing to risk the liability while funding options are considered.

Parkinson said the decision to close the playground was “100 percent about safety.”

He said that the life expectancy of the playground structures is about 15 to 25 years, and Winchester is nearing the high end of 25.

Parkinson said a small slide was removed in April due to damage, and two roof structures have visible cracks. Other issues include rust and jagged edges on several structures, with the plastic coating pealing away in many instances.

While funding options are considered, he said the committee would be looking to make some minor repairs to the playground like spraying a rubber coating over problematic rust areas. “It’s just a band aid,” said Parkinson.

The minor fixes will only buy the committee a year, or maybe two, before the playground needs to be overhauled, said committee member Cheryl Goller.

Parkinson said one option being discussed, which focuses on an entirely new playground, could cost upwards of $230,000. He said it was a ballpark number, and nothing has been decided yet.

The committee is currently researching dozens of grants which the town could be eligible for, said Goller. A large grant they are focused on is the PARC grant, which would award up to $100,000 for a project to fix the playground.

The PARC Grant Program is a state program that provides reimbursement to towns to acquire land for parks, develop new parks and improve existing ones.

The deadline to apply is in July, and the award date is sometime in September, said Goller.

To make use of the grant, the committee would need Town Meeting approval.

Before the town can go ahead an ask for funding, however, Town Administrator Heather Budrewicz said there needs to be a strategic plan.

Budrewicz urged committee members and residents to attend a community meeting in June to discuss construction and funding options for the playground. A date has not been set for the event.

There are also legal limits to the types of fundraising the committee can perform, said Goller.

To remedy the issue, resident and mom Amanda Davidson is setting up a nonprofit organization to raise money to save the playground.

Davidson has a background in nonprofit management and strategic planning, she said.

The Friends of Ashburnham Parks and Recreation will operate with a fundraising goal of $175,000, with the caveat that the committee works on grants of its own.

“Bringing it all together really allows the opportunity to raise a substantial amount of money,” said Davidson. “I would like our goal to be for spring of next year just so we are not sitting in this room having the exact same conversation.”

Davidson said nonprofit would not be limited to Winchester Park in the future. If other green spaces in Ashburnham needed help raising funds, the nonprofit could help.