'Children should be able to play': West Haven looks to state for playscape construction money

Photo of Brian Zahn

WEST HAVEN — For years, Kim Kenny has not been playing around. Soon, though, the city’s youth could be.

Kenny, a paraprofessional at Seth G. Haley Elementary School and president of the city’s PTA Council, said she noticed something at that school years ago.

“I was able to observe that our kids don’t have a place to play,” she said.

Kenny said she brought her concerns to state Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven. Now, the State Bond Commission will vote Friday as to whether West Haven should receive $430,000 in bonding to construct four new playscapes in the city.

“Safety, recreational open space and accessibility are all basic quality of life issues that should be a priority for all children,” Borer said. “Playing and socializing is a big part of their happiness, health and growth.”

Borer said she is “99.9 percent sure” the Bond Commission will approve the project, but she has kept quiet about the project to constituents until she is sure the funding has been procured. Although preliminary site designs were required as a condition in the funding application, Borer said the school communities should have input on the final design if the city were to receive the state money.

Borer said the sites for new playgrounds would be Haley School, Edith E. Mackrille School and the Glade Street housing authority site. It is proposed that $125,000 would be allocated to the two schools for new playgrounds and $150,000 would be allocated for the Glade Street site. The remaining funding is a “cushion” should the city elect to construct a fourth playscape, she said.

The playgrounds at Haley and Mackrille currently cannot accommodate the number of children at those schools, nor are they accessible to students of all physical, cognitive and medical abilities, Kenny said.

“Regardless of their different learning abilities, children should be able to play on the playground,” she said. “It’s such an important part of childhood development.”

Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro said the Board of Education and city officials have made a determination that the current playgrounds must come down.

“Recently, we’ve received a number of complaints regarding the condition of both playgrounds,” he said.

Cavallaro said a city inspector determined those playgrounds were unsafe, and the school board is in the process of removing them.

“There are missing screws and parts. They are covered with rust and are a liability to the city,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve done our best to keep them safe and operable, but we no longer have spare parts or the means to fix them. It’s just not worth it.”

Kenny said state bonding money would be tremendously helpful in constructing new, safer playscapes for students.

“It’s really hard to fundraise. You put in hours and hours and raise maybe $1,000. This is a pretty steep challenge for us to raise that money,” she said.

Additionally, during the coronavirus pandemic, Kenny said the PTA Council and other school-based groups were more concerned with reallocating the money they did have in their coffers to address more urgent needs. With the worst of the pandemic apparently behind the city, Kenny said she believes a bonding project for new playgrounds can benefit entire neighborhoods.

“It’s important that schools are highlighted as the hub of the community,” she said. “You want to be proud to say your children are students in West Haven.”