Knox playground gets an upgrade with $125K grant

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Out with the old: The playground in Knox Town Park is set to be replaced by a new one in 2018.

KNOX — In Knox, a nearly 40-year-old playground will be replaced by an up-to-date model that is open to people with disabilities. As part of a plan to improve the town park, funding through a state program is set to come through for $125,000, said Maryellen Gillis, the director of Knox’s youth program.

In 2015, a community survey was conducted to help prepare a renewed comprehensive plan in Knox, and residents stated in the survey that the town park and other recreational areas were of concern, said Gillis. This led to a creation during then-supervisor Michael Hammond’s tenure of the positions of senior services coordinator and youth services coordinator,to  which Gillis — a former teacher and administrator — was appointed.

In January of last year, Gillis and others began the Knox Town Park Improvement Committee in order to look at funding renovations. Over the last year and a half, the committee has created a plan for a multi-phase project for the park, she said.

Gillis said that, shortly after the creation of the committee, Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, who had just begun serving as supervisor, brought a grant from the State and Municipal Facilities Program, or SAM Program, to Gillis’s attention.

“I promised Maryellen, if she wanted to put together a park plan, I would beat around the bushes and find her the money,” said Lefkaditis.

Lefkaditis said he approached the town’s state assemblyman, Angelo Santabarbara, as well as its state senator, George Amedore. Lefkaditis first approached Santabarbara in February of last year, he said, about obtaining the SAM grant.

“I’m grateful to both of them,” said Lefkaditis of the two state legislators. He added he would approach funding of other town facility improvements, like of the highway garage, with the same strategy.

To apply for the grant, a form was filled out with the plan for the project’s budget, its location, and other information, in order to receive approval from the state. Knox received approval last month to fill out a final application to allow the project and its funding to move forward, said Lefkaditis. He said the final form was submitted on Friday, July 21.

Funded by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, the grant had to be sponsored by someone in the state legislature to be approved, which Santabarbara agreed to. The grant totals $125,000.

The SAM Program has in the past been criticized as a slush fund in which state legislators gain support from constituents by spending state taxpayers’ money on hand-picked local projects.

Lefkaditis said he was not concerned about the controversy surrounding the program.

“If Knox doesn’t get it, another town will,” he said. “I’d rather the Knox taxpayers and residents benefit from it than another town.”

Gillis is also currently applying for a grant through the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, and will be looking to start fundraising in the community as well.

First phase: Inclusive

In the first phase of the project, a playground compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act will be built where the town park tennis courts are currently located. Gillis said that this playground will be accessible and enjoyable to able-bodied children, children with physical disabilities, and children with mental disabilities. The court will be moved elsewhere in the park.

During that same phase of construction, a multipurpose building will be constructed nearby, and will include restrooms, a concession stand, and storage space, said Gillis. She hopes to begin in the spring of 2018 with the construction of the playground through a community build, and finish the first phase of building v by that fall, although that timeline could change.

“A lot of this is weather dependent,” said Gillis.

Although a request for proposals will be put out next year for the playground manufacturer, Lefkaditis said the town is planning to use and has been working with Pettinelli & Associates out of Burlington, Vermont. The company does designs, consultations, and installations of playgrounds, and the town is looking to have the company install a model manufactured by the Missouri-based company Miracle Recreation.

The community build, said Lefkaditis, will need about 50 to 60 people to assemble the playground following an installation by Pettinelli & Associates, and should take a weekend to complete.

“We’re not having issues in the volunteer section,” he said, confident that the town will have enough residents willing to help.

Gillis said the playground will have a wood carpet rather than pea gravel — in which wheelchairs get stuck. It will also have a spinorama, a merry-go-round equipped for wheelchairs. Gillis also said the playground, with its many areas to run, climb, swing, and opportunities to quickly move from one piece of equipment to the next, will help those with disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder expend their energy,

“To get the wiggles out,” she said, referring to a phrase she used as a teacher.

The current playground was built in the 1970s, and has holes, rust, and foundations leaving the ground due to frost heaving.

“They don’t meet any safety standards,” said Gillis. “Any current safety standards.”

Second phase: Ball courts

In the second phase of the project, the current basketball courts will be restructured into two basketball courts, tennis courts, and a racket ball court. A new soccer field will also be created, she said. The second phase of the project will likely take far longer to complete, said Gillis, over three years, and will likely start in 2019.

For Gillis, the park improvements are important because Knox’s town park serves as a community center. Facilities at the town park can serve families and other residents, or programs for seniors or youth.

Lefkaditis agreed that the park is a much-used resource in the town.

“I drastically underestimated how much use the walking path gets,” he said, adding that he had observed the number of people walking the trail — which is overgrown and will receive renovation as well.

Lefkaditis also said that he is observing more younger families moving to Knox that would be well served by the park. As a coach for Little League baseball, he has seen record amounts of young players due to this influx.

He added that the community has been active in the project through the survey, the committee, as well as several public hearings.

Gillis also credits the community for input making the new playground a reality.

“A lot of people have put in energy and effort in this project,” she said.


More Hilltowns News

  • Todd Schwendeman

    Todd Schwendeman announced his resignation from the Berne Planning Board, offering the town board a way to appoint convicted felon Tom Spargo back to the board after his short, illegal tenure. 

  • At its Sept. 10 regular meeting, the Knox Planning Board decided to wait until next month to weigh in on the Knox Town Board’s re-application to rezone approximately 80 acres of land at the intersection of routes 156 and 157 to a multi-use recreational district.

  • Vandalism was discovered in Westerlo’s town park this week, with graffiti artwork and crude phrases scrawled around the pavilion. 

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