NORTH KINGSTOWN – After years of discussion and planning, the Town of North Kingstown is moving forward with upgrades and improvements to Wilson Park, including new playground equipment and the installation of the town’s first splash pad. The total price for the town to upgrade Wilson Park is nearly $500,000, though town manager Ralph Mollis explained that the funds were coming from the Capital Improvement Fund and the Open Space Fund, not from the operating budget.

Depending on weather conditions, the town is expecting the upgrades to be completed by April 2021.

Last week, the town council unanimously approved the use of the funds for the improvements to Wilson Park, awarding the contract to O’Brien and Sons, a Massachusetts-based supplier of outdoor recreation equipment.

In her report to the town council, recreation director Chelsey Dumas-Gibbs said that the town realized the importance of its outdoor area and its positive effects on mental health for all generations.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, this need is more crucial than ever,” Dumas-Gibbs wrote. “Both the recreation department and the town as a whole take pride in all that we have to offer. We have acres of beautiful trails and outdoor space, and it is our responsibility to continue to improve and maintain all areas.”

And as North Kingstown’s most central park, upgrades to Wilson Park would go a long way towards improving and maintaining its outdoor area for residents.

Wilson Park, located in downtown Wickford, is accessible by foot, bike, small boat and more, bringing in thousands of residents each season. There are basketball courts and tennis courts, and it is home to the town’s pickleball group. The park is also the most popular summer camp location and game space for the NKW Little League, among other organizations.

Recently, several improvements have been made to the park, including the replacement of the irrigation system, installation of a new well (resulting in annual water savings of $10,000), field maintenance and planned reconstruction of the restrooms.

While improvements have been made to the park, much of the playground equipment is well over 25 years old, exceeding its lifespan and even becoming a safety hazard.  

“Over the last year or so I have been researching how old the pieces of equipment are at the park. While some of the pieces were donated and some moved from other playgrounds, I found that O’Brien and Sons is the original installer of most of the pieces dating back to 1993,” Dumas-Gibbs said. “At this point, we must consider the playground equipment not only outdated, but a safety hazard. Recently, we have had issues with chains, boards rotting and a giant hole in the slide.”

Dumas-Gibbs recommended that the town invest in new playground equipment, including a new structure with a nature and sports theme, as well as a zipline and ADA accessible features. The upgrades would almost entirely transform the playground, with fully revamped and eye-popping equipment that ties in the sports theme.

“The park should be bright, enticing and exciting,” Dumas-Gibbs said. “Going with brighter colors will draw attention to the playground to make it ‘pop.’ Since the park already accommodates so many different sporting events, a sports theme would tie in perfectly.”

The cost for the playground equipment, surfacing and installation is estimated to cost around $371,000.

Along with the new playground equipment, Dumas-Gibbs and water director Tim Cranston also recommended the installation of a new splash pad, a recreation area for water play that includes ground nozzles spraying water upwards.

“These pads are becoming increasingly popular and I anticipate that more towns will be adding this feature to their parks,” Dumas-Gibbs said.

According to Cranston, the splash pad will be directly tied into the existing water line, which currently feeds the bathroom and concessions building. He also explained that the splash pad would only run when a child activates the touch sensor, and would not run continuously.

“It runs through a sequence of about five to eight minutes and then shuts off,” he said. “The child goes back over and touches the activator again.”

He also said that the town could set the hours of operation for the splash pad.

“For instance, let’s say Sunday through Saturday they decide to run the system from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” he said. “The system ‘turns on’ at 10 a.m. but water doesn’t start flowing until a child goes over to the activator and touches it.”

The design for the splash pad features 14 spray features–two above ground and 12 ground sprays.

Cranston said that the recreation department, in consultation with the water department, selected the lowest flow version available  

The splash pad installation will also include educational signage designed with the cooperation of the town’s arts council and water department. Utilizing the theme “NK Kids Care,” the signs will provide information on water conservation, pollinator awareness and preservation of our nearby marine environment.

“We’ll use this as not only a fun place but to teach kids about caring about their environment around them,” Cranston said.

The cost for the splash pad materials and installation is expected to be around $96,000.

Dumas-Gibbs said that the upgrades to the park can “set the stage locally by bringing this innovative style of play into Wickford.”

“With shaded areas for adults to sit and observe their children at play, the park will become a local ‘destination location’ inviting families outdoors together, away from their electronics and into downtown Wickford for breakfast, lunch, dinner and shopping,” she said.  

The recreation director said that she met several times with Cranston, O’Brien and Sons, and director of public works Adam White to develop a plan to ensure that the project is “not only entertaining, but realistic and economical.” She added that public works would be assisting with getting the grounds ready and pulling old equipment.

O’Brien and Sons, who has provided services to the town in the past, have also spent many hours drawing up the design and exploring options for the town, Dumas-Gibbs said, adding that she was recommending that the town enter into a contract with the company for the reconstruction of the playground and installation of the splash pad.

“Maintenance to the new, improved proposed playground provided by O’Brien & Sons is minimal and the life expectancy of these newer playgrounds are approximately 35 years with proper upkeep,” she added. “The new Wilson Park design shows educational, original pieces that will bring families into Wickford for the day to not only enjoy our park, but local businesses as well.”

Councilor Mary Brimer said that it was time to move forward with improvements to the park.

“We’ve had a reputation over the years of not taking care of our stuff in a timely manner and letting it deteriorate too much,” Brimer said. “The last install on this was 1993, exceeding its life expectancy. We’ve gotten our money’s worth out of it and now it’s time for us to put our vote where it counts and take care of our equipment, parks and playgrounds.”

Councilor Kerry McKay asked if there were plans to put a funding mechanism in place for maintenance of the new equipment and splash pad.

“Maintenance on all of the things I just showed you is very minimal,” Dumas-Gibbs said. “But yes, I will start budgeting for maintenance for this and future playgrounds.”

McKay also said that, because the project was being funded through the Capital Improvements and Open Space Funds, the taxpayers had to be “congratulated in all of this.”

“They funded the capital improvement fund, the open space fund,” he said. “Now, we need to look to the taxpayers and say thank you very much.”

And councilor Kevin Maloney said that these upgrades were “desperately needed,” though he asked whether the town was planning on upgrading other parks and playgrounds in North Kingstown.

Mollis said that this was one of several upgrades that the town was planning.

“We have a whole portfolio of parks and playgrounds that need upgrading,” he said. “A playground helps all generations. The kids are going to enjoy it, the parents are going to enjoy it, the grandparents can bring kids there.”

The town council voted in favor of going forward with the upgrades to Wilson Park, awarding the bid to O’Brien and Sons.

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