After more than a year and a half of successful fundraising efforts and community engagement, it seems that the Kate’s Kause universal playground project has hit its first snag. On the evening of Feb. 23 the Township of Woolwich hosted an open-house meeting to give residents the opportunity to see a very preliminary plan for the universally accessible playground that is to be built in Elmira’s Gibson Park. Of the approximately 55 people who attended, there were a handful of residents who voiced some concerns over the location in the green space on the west side of the creek that runs through the middle of the park.
Originally hoping to raise $250,000 over five years, Kate’s Kause found considerable public support, collecting $265,000 in just 15 months. Given the response, the goal is now $500,000, which would allow for a larger facility, including a splash pad.
“There were some people that offered suggestions to look at the other side of the creek, the east side of the park versus the west, which we certainly will look at,” said Karen Makela, the township’s director of recreation and facilities, adding that “95 per cent of those who attended were overwhelmingly in support of the project and location.”
The residents who did voice concerns said they were under the impression that the new park would be built closer to the existing playground equipment as a way of enhancing the existing structure, and that the green space would be left untouched.
While the township had it in mind to build the playground and splash pad adjacent to Lions Hall, near the Woolwich Memorial Centre, that site was deemed unsuitable due to space constraints and the lack of tree cover for shade.
Makela said she did have some discussions with residents who shared those concerns, and all who attended were provided with comment sheets to fill out to ensure staff was aware of the concerns before moving forward.
The rec. director emphasized that the diagram presented to the public at the meeting was very preliminary, wasn’t to scale, and the township hasn’t even had the site properly surveyed yet. Rather, the diagram was to provide a rough idea of where the proposed playground equipment and splash pad might go once construction gets underway.
“We didn’t want to put any money in until this has been approved as the selected site, and we weren’t at that stage yet.”
The township must now find a way to balance the concerns of the few with the many endorsements that they received. Makela said that they are “darned if they do, and darned if they don’t” with regards to where the park ends up, as moving it on the east side of the creek would mean that many mature trees would need to be cut down to make space for the equipment, and that portions of the existing playground structure would need to be removed.
“The reason we looked at that location was primarily because it was flat and already open,” she said of the green space. “If we go to the other side and start taking down trees, we’ll be having people screaming at us for that, so you really have to weigh the comments of one or two.”
Another sticking point is the fact that two of the grants Kate’s Kause received have time limits attached to them: a $60,000 grant from Aviva Insurance has to be put to use by year’s end, while a $25,000 grant from The Keg has a June deadline, meaning a decision needs to be made sooner rather than later in order to get shovels in the ground by spring. Makela said that she has a team working on reviewing the material collected during the open house and will be delivering a report to council soon.