$600,000 to replace a Stamford playground? Finance council members concerned about project costs

STAMFORD — The Finance Council looked into the costs of maintaining and upgrading the city’s playgrounds on Thursday after learning that a single project was expected to cost more than $600,000.

There are 20 playgrounds in Stamford’s public parks. Among them is a playground at Courtland Park on the east side that the city has been planning to replace for years.

Equipment on the playground has broken and been removed over time, senior parks planner Erin McKenna told the finance council, and the playground is not accessible to people with disabilities. The city’s plans for the park include the installation of new play equipment as well as a poured-in-place rubber surface, replacing engineered wood fiber.

Mary Lou Rinaldi, vice president of the council, argued that there must be a way to revamp playgrounds at a lower cost.

“Not every park needs to have Mercedes-level equipment,” the longtime Democratic board member said. “Why can’t it be a Chevy or a Ford?” We could do a lot more.

City engineer Lou Casolo, who also attended the board meeting, said new playground equipment at Courtland is costing around $180,000, which “doesn’t seem excessive” for a playground. 7,500 square feet. The cast-in-place rubber surface is expensive, he said, but engineered wood fiber requires more maintenance.

“The fiber moves. It’s raining, things are moving. The kids are going down the slide, it’s moving,” Casolo said. “And the park service isn’t always there to put it back up, so the safety benefits of paying more for the cast-in-place[is]a good thing.”

Casolo and McKenna also noted that shipping and building material costs have increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic, making construction projects more expensive in general.

Chairman Richard Freedman and Board Member Geoff Alswanger, both Democrats, recommended the city reconsider the scope of the project.

Cost increases are “one more reason why we should be looking at scope more carefully,” Freedman said. “There are some things we can control and there are some things we can’t control. But we can certainly control the range.

The city took money from a number of revolving accounts dedicated to improving the park and invested it in designing, tendering and awarding the contract for the playground project Courtland, Casolo told the board. Several months ago, the city requested permission to reallocate a portion of the account balance from a different, completed parks project to the reduced revolving accounts.

That’s when the more than $600,000 prize caught the attention of the board, who asked city officials for more information.

“Personally, I would like to see $600,000 spent on our parks. I’m just not sure $600,000 should be spent on this park right now,” Alswanger said at Thursday’s meeting, adding that the project “has never been touted as being at this level. of cost”.

Capital budgets for past years indicated that the project would cost approximately $300,000. It was a mistake, McKenna said the day after the Finance Council meeting.

McKenna said she provides information to the city parks manager, who makes the budget request. She says she made a mistake in describing the amount to be requested. $600,000 is the right number.

During Thursday’s meeting, McKenna noted that of the approximately $3.3 million in funding requested for playground rehabilitation over the past nine fiscal years, only $1.16 million has been approved as part. of the budget process.

With other priorities like building a new police station and a new school, “it seems like parks are always last on the list,” McKenna said.

Freedman said the council should have a political discussion about how much the city should spend on its playgrounds, which city officials say lasts about two decades.

“I’m sure the kids will love this playground – that’s not the point here,” Freedman said. “The question is, what about kids in other parts of town who are going to be playing on the same old equipment that you’re trying to replace for these kids now? How much longer will they have to wait to have their equipment replaced if we continue with the same level of funding? So maybe the political discussion is: we need more funding. Perhaps the political discussion is this: we need to reduce the cost of our playgrounds. »

About 5,600 people, including more than 700 children, live within a 10-minute walk of Courtland, according to a presentation McKenna gave to the council, although she said she thought most people drove to the car park. A dog park is also located in Courtland.

Republican member JR McMullen asked how much the playground was actually used, saying he often traveled to the area to visit a family member and never saw children in the park .

“It’s used,” McKenna said. “But, as I was explaining, it had to be replaced for about nine years.”

“I know it would be a much-used playground if restored to full capacity,” she added.

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