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Nashua battles over placement of playground

Sunday News Correspondent

March 22. 2014 6:58PM
Artist's rendition of the proposed Legacy Playground. Siting of the playground has proven controversial in Nashua. 

NASHUA - What is designed as a play structure to integrate people of all abilities is now creating divisiveness between a community that is deadlocked on where to build the playground.

"This should not be offensive. This should not be a barroom brawl," said Paul Hebert, one of about 30 people who attended a roundtable discussion on Saturday about the soon-to-be constructed Legacy Playground that has yet to secure a home.

Legacy Playground, the state's largest fully accessible play structure organized by former graduates of Leadership Greater Nashua, has been in the works for more than two years. Organizers have studied various potential sites for the playground, but believe Greeley Park is the best location. The group has raised about $130,000 for the play structure, which is intended to be a gift to the city.

The proposed site, however, has created significant controversy in Nashua as some people hope to leave Greeley Park undisturbed, and others feel the playground would work well at the location.

Alderman-at-Large James Donchess, chairman of the Infrastructure Committee, said Saturday that this may be a lose-lose situation unless other alternatives and ideas are considered.

"Someone will lose and someone will win theoretically, but I think everyone will lose," he said, stressing the importance of finding a site where everyone can be on board.

It doesn't have to become a "knock down, drag out barroom brawl," added Donchess.

While trying to reach some common ground and consensus, Donchess recommended for the first time that perhaps city funds be utilized to help move the project forward.

"If this is truly an important project, then why wouldn't the city contribute?" Donchess asked. He suggested that a second site be considered - while still keeping Greeley Park on the table - that would include a reasonable donation from the city as well.

There may be other sites that proponents of Greeley Park might consider, maintained Donchess.

Eric Brand, one of the playground organizers, said Greeley Park is still the group's first choice for Legacy Playground.

He unveiled preliminary design renderings of the 11,000 square-foot play structure that includes adaptive swings, a treefort, trapeze hooks, double wide ramps, open concept slides and more in a neutral palette color scheme.

Tom Miller, who suffers from Lyme Disease and has mobility issues that require him to utilize a wheelchair, said he has legitimate concerns about Greeley Park being home to the new playground.

In an effort to make sure the future play structure is utilized by as many people as possible of all ages and abilities, Miller contended that anyone with autism would have a problem with the proposed site at Greeley Park because of the excessive noise. In addition, he stressed that there is no access to the proposed location of the playground, and no handicap parking.

"This is the best site that we are coming up with," said Brand, noting the group is confident that if it continues to move forward and decisions can be made, that the structure could be built by the end of the year.

The Greeley Park location requires approval from aldermen because of a stipulation on the land that requires any changes to the property be authorized by elected officials.

"I think there are just legitimate differences here," said Hebert, who believes the back corner of the meadow at Greeley Park seems like a feasible location.

Stephanie Ballentine has a different opinion on the matter.

"A gift is a thing that comes with no strings and no mandates and no constraints," said Ballentine, contending if organizers were not dead set on the Greeley Park location, the playground could have probably been built by now.

"I don't see it moving forward, and if so, it would be public deviseness," she said. "To me, that is not leadership of greater Nashua."

Alderman-at-Large Diane Sheehan stressed that the proposal is a way to accomplish something the city has been trying to accomplish for years - to replace aging playground equipment that sits within another area at Greeley Park - but at no cost to the taxpayer.

There can continue to be neighborhood meetings forever, but not everyone is going to agree, she added.

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