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CPC votes against $1M funding request for Marathon School accessible playground but approves $100K for study

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Community Preservation Committee at its meeting Thursday night voted against a $1 million request from the School Department to design and build an accessible playground at the Marathon School. Instead, the CPC unanimously approved $100,000 for further study into an accessible playground that would include a wider age range at an undesignated location.

Discussion for the proposal dominated the 90-minute meeting. Concerns were raised about community use of a playground designated for school property and lack of detail in the proposal. Proponents spoke about the need for stressing inclusivity at an early age and allowing students with disabilities to be able to play and socialize with their peers.

The $1 million was proposed to be withdrawn from the undesignated reserve fund, explained chair Ken Weismantel. Under the Community Preservation Act, there are four designated reserve funds to which 10% of allocated monies must be directed: affordable housing, open space, recreation and historic preservation. The remaining money goes to the undesignated reserve fund, where it can be awarded for projects in any of the four categories.

Erica Seekell, a member of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC), attended the meeting in person to discuss the proposed project. She recognized that some CPC members previously expressed concerns about the accessible playground being on school grounds. She countered that it would get wider use because the population for which the accessible playground is being designed would use it during recess and continue to use it after school along with other children. It also would be the only accessible playground in the area.

“Families like mine would go to a special needs playground specifically because of what it offers,” she added. “It would allow our whole family to play together, versus a regular playground.

“It’s more than just a playground,” she continued. “It’s equality. It’s a chance to be seen as a person, to say that you matter and that your ability to play should be the same as anybody else’s.”

She said approximately 12% of Hopkinton families include children with disabilities.

Added Seekell: “How we decide to design something determines who we decide to include and who we are excluding as well.”

This prompted Dan Terry, the CPC’s Parks & Recreation Commission liaison, to question if there would be future requests down the road for playgrounds for children in older age brackets.

“I think it’s only fair that we meet the needs of all the people in our town,” Seekell replied.

Vice chair Eric Sonnett questioned whether it would be a school playground or a town playground, calling the school’s involvement in a CPC request “uncomfortable.” He also noted that the school has two playgrounds. Seekell noted that it would be for both and would be placed in the field behind the school.

Said Terry: “My concern is this is a million-dollar project that satisfies two-thirteenths of the kids in the school system.”

With the new Elmwood School building planned nearby, he questioned whether the project could accommodate “the needs of a broader group.” He noted that no design or preliminary budget had been presented. With this in mind, he voiced support for an amendment for an smaller appropriation for study and design.

At-large member Al Rogers echoed Terry’s view.

Marathon School Principal Lauren Dubeau noted that the structures at the current school playground are “suitable for children up to 12 years.” The school also offers an extended school year program, so more students would be able to use the playground.

HPS Director of Student Services Abby Hanscom pointed out that the CPC has been stressing the importance of outdoor recreation and “play for all.” She noted that Peabody, Holyoke and Arlington have partnered with their school districts, and she would like the district to work with the CPC.

The motion failed, 5-1, with Rogers the only one voting in favor.

An amended motion was approved unanimously for $100,000 from the recreation reserve to go toward further study after the Marathon School’s name was stricken from the request.

“I hope the applicants are hearing the dialogue tonight,” Terry stressed. “While we are not opposed to the project, we might be opposed to it being aimed for the benefit of such a narrow group.”

Other requests pass unanimously

The CPC made quick work of the other requests on the agenda, approving them unanimously. They included:

  • $5,900 from the housing reserve for the surveying of a parcel on Fruit Street;
  • $10,210 for the Hopkinton Area Land Trust’s request for a conservation restriction on the Rice Woods property, also known as the Jenner property;
  • $10,000 for a conservation restriction to be placed on the Hughes property requested by HALT;
  • $20,000 requested by the Cemetery Commission for the restoration of historic headstones to come from the historical preservation reserve;
  • $240,897 for restoration of the Historical Society building from the historical preservation reserve;
  • $30,000 requested by the Parks & Recreation Commission for a permanent storage shed at the Fruit Street fields;
  • $60,000 requested by the Trails Committee for the second phase of the Chamberlain Trail.

There also were six requests for unspecified amounts for land purchases. While they were approved as placeholders, Weismantel noted that some of the properties mentioned, including two owned by Eversource, may not be for sale.

The public hearing for CPC funding requests was continued until the Jan. 25 meeting.

The next CPC meeting on Tuesday, Weismantel explained, will be the quarterly meeting when the status of current CPC projects will be reviewed.

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