Bristol’s new playground generating strong feelings

BRISTOL — A spirited debate about a new playground on the town green has sprung up between residents in the past several weeks. Some described the not-yet-completed playground as an eyesore, while others chimed in to defend the months of hard work of playground organizers.
The discussion began with a series of posts on Front Porch Forum both criticizing and praising the playground project.
“The new playground is the ugliest thing I have ever seen,” wrote Scott and Stacie Ayotte on Aug. 29.
The Ayottes expressed concern that children would climb the trunk-like structures and fall, leaving the town vulnerable to lawsuits.
“I see children attempting to climb one of the ‘trees,’ falling and the parent suing the town,” the Ayottes wrote.
The next day, Bridget Leopold also leveled criticism at the project.
“The new playground is not ment (sic) for little ones and does not look safe or appealing,” Leopold wrote, adding that she will take her grandson to the elementary school in the future.
Kathy Forand Sr. said she believed many people in town harbor concerns about the playground.
“I feel the same as many,” she wrote. “I can not see how the playground will fit into Main Street Bristol.”
But the posts critical of the project spurred even more posts in support of the project and the playground committee.
“I have to say that I absolutely love the new design,” wrote Michelle Steele. “Natural playscapes using natural materials are really beautiful and inviting for creative play.”
Mary Ann Boyd urged residents to hold off on forming their opinions on the playground until it is complete.
“I know it’s a bit daunting to look at those trees in their current state, however I have faith it is going to be a beautiful playground,” Boyd wrote. “People have been working hard every day so I want to appreciate the effort and vision involved in this project.”
Krista Siringo, a member of the Bristol Green Playground Committee, which is overseeing the project, urged detractors to visit the playground’s Facebook page to learn more details about the plan. Siringo also assured that the public had ample time to weigh in on the project.
“The committee would also like to remind that this design came to fruition after over a year of planning, soliciting of community feedback and extensive consultation with ADA regulations, playground safety rules and the town insurance carrier,” Siringo wrote. “Additionally, the design was reviewed and approved by the selectboard and two different town boards twice.”
Resident Carolyn Knight praised the project for being more inclusive of children with mobility issues.
“It can only bring joy to many, and bring people together in/to our town for positive reasons!” Knight wrote.
JONATHAN YOUNG STANDS high atop the roof of the new tree house playground structure under construction in Bristol. Some local residents have complained about the aesthetics of the project. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Bristol Recreation Director Darla Senecal said construction on the playground is going smoothly.
Playground organizers have so far raised $84,000 of the about $97,000 needed to complete the project, mostly through private donations. Senecal said that early projections show the construction coming in under budget.
The majority of the project is funded through private donations, not taxpayer money. Funds from the town totaling $25,000 paid for about a quarter of the playground.
In addressing the criticism that has surfaced on Front Porch Forum, Senecal said she believes residents may be judging the playground before seeing all it will have to offer.
“I think a lot of folks that responded saw the custom piece and worried it was the only piece going in, when in reality the traditional pieces are just coming later on,” Senecal said. “We will have swings and a jungle gym, and we will stay as close to the original footprint as possible.”
Bob Stoddard, who is overseeing construction on the project, said residents he has spoken with have for the most part been supportive of the playground.
“There’s a few people that have complained, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Stoddard said.
He added that much of the criticism surfaced as his crew had just begun construction, when the playground wasn’t much to look at.
“It’s sort of like making sausage; you don’t want to see how it gets made,” Stoddard said. “As soon as we got the rafters on and it started to take shape, people got excited.”
Stoddard said his crew has stayed as close to the approved plans as possible, save for some cosmetic changes.
“We’re changing a few aesthetic details here and there,” he said.
Senecal encouraged town residents to view the plans for the playground online, or visit her in the recreation department office.
“I’d be glad to take anyone over to the project and explain what they’re seeing,” Senecal said.
Senecal said playground organizers will hold a “community build” Oct. 2-4 to complete the project. That Thursday through Saturday, Senecal is looking for dozens of volunteers to work under the supervision of the contractor to install the final elements of the playground.
“The community build will complete the project,” Senecal said.
The final component will be the installation of artificial grass surfacing that is accessible for everyone, including those with mobility issues.
“We will have one of the most accessible playgrounds in the area,” Senecal said, adding that the surface will be easy for both children with mobility issues and grandparents in wheelchairs to navigate.
Senecal said the playground committee is still waiting to hear back on several grant applications, and is still soliciting private donations. For more information, residents can visit the Bristol Recreation Department website, bristolrec.org.
Overwhelmingly, thre’s a few people that have complained, but pretty overwhelmingly positive, people are very excited. It’s sort of like making sausage, you don’t want anyone to see it. As soon as we got rafters and on started to take shape people got excited. 

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