Gardner Park closed until renovation due to safety concerns

in Newport/News

NEWPORT — The city of Newport was forced to make the difficult decision to close the Gardner Park playground earlier this month over safety concerns.

An annual risk management report performed by the city’s insurance carrier prompted discussion on whether the city should continue spending unbudgeted funds on repairs when there is a total renovation on the horizon.

The city’s property insurance carrier, The Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), requires annual inspections of parks to ensure that the municipality is following best practices and complying with safety code.

Annual visits usually result in a short “to-do” list of recommendations for repair or maintenance on things that could present a liability risk to the city.

Jessica Booth, Parks & Recreation Director, manages the public parks for Newport and is very familiar with these routine check-ups.

“It’s not unusual for Gardner Park to be the star of the show,” Booth said in reference to the follow-up reports. “Our playground is being used well beyond its intended lifespan, so we’ve been trying to keep up with safety repairs for years.”

This summer though, with fundraising on track for a big 2021 playground overhaul, the city decided not to fund the needed repairs, looking instead toward the re-build.

The final straw was a recommendation from VLCT to completely resurface the play area by replacing existing compacted pea-stone, which, according to playground code doesn’t meet fall protection standards.

Booth said bringing in engineered wood chips would have been the most cost-effective solution, but would still have run about $12,000

“It just doesn’t make sense at this point in the game,” she said.

With usage down heading into the winter months, the city opted to close off the area instead.

Jennifer Smith, Chair of the Newport Recreation Committee is disappointed, but hopeful.

“We knew it was only a matter of time before this happened, I’m just glad we’re well on our way to a new playground,” Smith said.

The Recreation Committee has been furiously fundraising for the project since 2019 and they hope this closure might inspire more people to give.

“There are a lot of families who use the playground in Gardner Park,” Smith went on to say. “If each one made a small contribution, it could bring us across the finish line. Knowing that there won’t be a playground in Gardner Park until we do might be a little extra motivation.”

To date, the Recreation Committee and municipality have raised 80 percent of project costs through grants, fundraisers, and community donations.

Supporters are invited to make a contribution and see project designs at www.GoFundMe.com/SPLASHPLAY or by calling Jessica Booth at (802) 334-6345.

Donations are tax-deductible and can also be mailed to: Newport Parks & Recreation, 222 Main Street, Newport VT 05855.

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