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December 02. 2013 9:52PM

Planners make case for a playground at Greeley Park in Nashua

NASHUA — While most people agree the future Legacy Playground — the state's soon-to-be largest fully accessible play structure — would be beneficial for city residents, not everyone agrees on where the playground should be constructed.

Residents packed the auditorium at Nashua City Hall to learn more about the handicapped-accessible and all-inclusive playground that has yet to find a home. Although organizers would like the 12,000-square-foot play structure to be built at Greeley Park, the Board of Aldermen will first have to approve the proposal.

Eric Brand, one of the organizers, said the current playground equipment at Greeley Park is dated, rusty and dangerous for children.

"We can do better. This is just old — it is not a crown jewel," said Brand, adding that Legacy Playground will not cost taxpayers any money.

More than $130,000 has already been raised to build the structure, but its future location has not yet been finalized. The Board of Public Works has twice voted to support Greeley Park as the future home of the new playground.

"This is not just a playground for autistic children or other disabled children. This is a playground for everyone," said Brand, noting it will also serve veterans, seniors and the general public.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said other sites have been considered for Legacy Playground, including Labine Park and Sargent Avenue Park.

However, Brand maintained that the existing playground equipment at the Labine and Sargent Avenue sites do not need updated play structures, whereas the equipment at Greeley Park needs significant improvements.

Not everyone is thrilled about the new playground being built at Greeley Park, primarily because of parking concerns.

"We don't have a lot of parking," said Tracy Pappas, commissioner of the Board of Public Works. "Everyone is competing for the same space and the same parking."

Pappas said she would prefer the handicapped-accessible playground be constructed at Sargent Avenue Park, which she believes would be more ideal for individuals with disabilities.

"That road is jam-packed. Concord Street is jam-packed on weekends," agreed Alderman Paul Chasse, implying many of the people visiting the park are from Massachusetts.

In the future, Chasse said city officials might consider restricting Greeley Park to Nashua residents only.

Alderman Diane Sheehan took issue with Chasse's comment, saying the first time she played at the park as a child she was living in Massachusetts. Her family fell in love with Nashua and later decided to move to the city, said Sheehan.

Attracting people from a neighboring community is not a bad thing, she said, stressing the city can either accept the playground gift or be forced to spend taxpayer money to replace the existing play structure at Greeley Park.

Sheehan also said parking at Greeley Park is not a problem unless there is a large event taking place at the site, in which case visitors are likely not interested in the playground but rather the organized activity.

Paul Hebert, president of the United Way of Greater Nashua, has donated funds toward the project and is a supporter of the Greeley Park location."The (current) equipment from my perspective just isn't safe and certainly isn't usable," said Hebert, adding the city should not discourage families from using the park.Former graduates from Leadership Greater Nashua are spearheading the community project to raise $250,000 for the state's largest universally accessible playground designed for people of all ages and abilities.

The playground will not only be designed for children and adults with mobility challenges, but also individuals with mental, hearing and sensory disabilities, as well as people with vision impairments. The mission is to have people with and without disabilities interacting and playing together.

"I would like to preserve Greeley Park as it is. It is a lovely park," said Bob Burgess, who worries about safety issues since the playground is so close to the woods.

Jan Martin, special education director in Nashua, said she was amazed and thrilled when she learned about the playground project. Special needs students in the Nashua region need a place within nature where they can look at the trees, take advantage of green space and play together.

"You won't believe the joy you will see with these kids," Martin said of the possibility of a fully accessible playground in the city. "I cannot imagine a better use for Greeley Park."

The Board of Aldermen has not yet made any final decision on whether to allow the playground to be built at Greeley Park.khoughton@newstote.com


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