By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN – The Fishing Cove Elementary School playground will soon be accessible to handicapped children, the result of a directive from the Rhode Island Governors Commission on Disabilities.
Lisa Windham lodged a complaint on behalf of her daughter, Laura, 7, who suffers from spastic paraplegia, a neuromuscular disease. The child uses a walker and could not reach the equipment because the playground had a mulch surface.
Public Works Director Phil Bergeron says town workers are assisting the school department in preparing the site for installation of rubberized walkways to the various apparatus.
Ned Draper, the school department’s director of administrative services, says the combined school and municipal crews are grading the surface and excavating to make room for timbers and other pieces of landscaping material.
He says plans for the update were submitted to the state disabilities commission and “we’ve been keeping them up to date on what we’re doing” via e-mail.
O’Brien & Sons of Medfield, Mass., a company specializing in playground installation and surfacing, will pour the rubberized walkways.
So far, says Draper, the price of the project is more than $40,000 for the rubber and $10,000 for the mulch and landscaping. Cost of labor and machinery have not yet been determined.
Lisa Windham notes that, while the wood chips that are being removed weren’t a suitable surface for Laura’s walker, the new mulch being installed under the playground equipment is made of “material that’s acceptable by the ADA [Americans With Disabilities act.]”
She says she plans to visit the site. “Before they start pouring [the rubberized component], I’ll go down and look to make sure it’s where it’s supposed to be.”
Melvoid Benson, a school committee member and retired teacher, has championed Laura’s case and thinks there’s a lesson to be learned.
“That little girl has been enrolled in our schools for going on four years and they [the school department] know the situation. I would hope that [in the future] they make sure that the things a school affords are available to the entire student body.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .