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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Civil input at Legacy Playground meeting on Wednesday in Nashua

NASHUA – Residents took a much calmer approach to Legacy Playground, the all-accessible facility proposed nearly two years ago by the 2012 class of Legacy Greater Nashua, when offering input Wednesday at a special Board of Aldermen meeting.

Legacy Playground has been the subject of more than a year’s worth of often-testy public meetings and plenty more debate through social media. ...

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NASHUA – Residents took a much calmer approach to Legacy Playground, the all-accessible facility proposed nearly two years ago by the 2012 class of Legacy Greater Nashua, when offering input Wednesday at a special Board of Aldermen meeting.

Legacy Playground has been the subject of more than a year’s worth of often-testy public meetings and plenty more debate through social media.

Several people spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, which was led by Jennifer Brooke, principal and founder of Lemon-Brooke Landscape Architecture in Concord, Mass.

She said she made the presentation on behalf of the Institute for Human Centered Design, the firm the city hired to design the playground.

Comment period was opened by former city alderman and Berkeley Street resident Dan Richardson, who parsed some of the details Brooke presented and asked how the institute arrived at the 12,000-square-foot figure for the facility’s size.

The figure is “the number we’re starting with,” Brooke told attendees in response to Richardson’s question.

“It may not need to be 12,000 square feet, that’s just a number we’re starting with. Usually it’s the budget that tells us how big it will be,” she said.

Brooke said the institute is working with a budget of $250,000, the amount set by Leadership Greater Nashua early in the process.

Most important, she added, is not going way over budget.

“We don’t want to get too big for our britches and end up with half a playground,” she said.

Roughly 40 people, including 11 of the 15 aldermen, attended the special meeting, scheduled to “get a better idea of expectations for this playground ... what people think of it, what they wish to see here,” Brooke said at the outset. The meeting’s tone was decidedly calmer and more thoughtful than the discourse that defined some of the earlier meetings, where emotional back-and-forths dominated the comment periods and amendments rose and fell with regularity.

“We’ve come a long way, and have had a lot of difference of opinion over this,” board president David Deane said in turning the meeting over to Brooke.

Brooke began with a general overview of what the playground will look like, including different shapes that the 12,000 square foot parcel can take. She said designers usually prefer breaking up the parcel in order to incorporate natural, existing components like trees, boulders and various green spaces.

She described the main purpose of building the playground following American with Disabilities Act guidelines is to incorporate the ADA’s “spirit of integration.”

“It’s not so much about achieving a certain benchmark of activity,” she said. “It’s about giving children a place to play.”

Going forward, the institute will be careful to “let the site dictate to us where these things work,” Brooke said, referring to equipment. “We don’t want to end up trying to shoehorn equipment into the space.”

Brooke played a slide show of existing all-accessible playgrounds, one of which is the Alexander Kemp Playground in Cambridge. Included were photos of innovative equipment designed not only for children with handicaps but that all children can use.

One is what Brooke called a “basket swing,” a swing-hammock hybrid commonly called a “community swing” because it can accommodate a child lying down as well as two or three others sitting.

Another type of swing designed to hold wheelchairs has been a big hit at playgrounds where they are installed, Brooke said.

“It’s the most popular (equipment) on the playground we go to,” she said, referring to her children, one of whom is blind, deaf, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.

The swing consists of a platform onto which the wheelchair is rolled, then the sides rise to form a sort of box that keeps the chair in place as the child swings to and fro.

Raised sand tables, sometimes incorporated into flat rocks, are another component, along with what Brooke called “climbing elements” that “don’t look like monkey bars.”

Slides integrated into hillsides, she added, eliminate stairs. “A child can walk, or even crawl, to the top (of the slide),” she said, “because there are no steps to climb.”

Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess called the parks depicted in the presentation “so imaginative, they’re almost works of art in themselves.”

“They’re of different styles, but all are really, really good,” he said. He encouraged Brooke to decide what design would “benefit Nashua the most,” and to “use your own judgement and creativity” to make it the best it can be.

“The possibilities seem endless,” added Ward 4 alderman Pam Brown. “Sometimes children with disabilities and their families can become isolated, so just the thought of having children and families meeting at the park, playing with each other, is wonderful.”

Brian and Michelle Hubert, Wellington Street residents who have been closely following the project, both spoke highly of how it has turned out.

“I’m really excited seeing this,” Michelle Hubert said of the progress to this point. “A lot of my concerns have been in keeping with the aesthetics of Greeley Park, and it’s encouraging to see how other playgrounds have done that,” she said of those depicted in Brooke’s presentation.

Brian Hubert, a member of the LGN class that proposed the playground, also expressed his excitement over a project he called “a wonderful gift to Nashua.”

Once the preliminary plans are drawn up, Brooke said, they will be reviewed by Ana Julian, an architectural design specialist with the institute.

She said the institute estimates a schematic design will be ready for review in September.

Looking forward, Brooke said she sees a lot to be optimistic about.

“I believe there’s an audience waiting to come to this place and play,” she said.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).