WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A six-figure state grant was given to the town to build a handicapped-accessible playground, but now there are issues stopping wheelchairs from even getting through the front gate.
Less than a year since a town inspector gave the playground the OK, Bob Cooper, executive secretary of the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities, told Target 12 “most kids using a wheelchair” probably cannot get past the fence.
Cooper pointed out the asphalt path leading to the gate is not wide enough under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, and the pitch is too steep.
“It has to be wider,” Cooper said. “[Anyone in a wheelchair] needs to be able to move to the side of the gate, to open it toward you.”
Cooper demonstrated the problem, rolling backward on the slanted path as he pulled the gate toward his wheelchair.
“You’ll fly off the path,” Cooper said.
Even before anyone approaches the gate, there are no handicapped parking spaces near the playground, with problems continuing on the wood chip ground cover, according to Cooper.
“Doing my workout,” Cooper said as he pushed the wheels on his chair. “Just trying to maneuver through [the wood chips] and up the incline.”
Cooper said wood chips can be used on a handicapped-accessible playground but “the surface has to be a flat” and raked regularly to remove any ruts caused by children playing.
Again, Cooper demonstrated the potential problem as he approached a handicapped accessible merry-go-round.
“You can get to here,” he said at the top of a mote-like ridge surrounding the device. “Then, you’re going downhill in a hurry. A child in a wheelchair can’t get on [the merry-go-round.]”
The project cost just under $150,000, paid for in large part by a $100,000 grant from the R.I. Department of Environmental Management that was earmarked for a handicapped-accessible playground.
Documents obtained by Target 12 indicate the completed playground was approved by a town inspector in February.
Alan Palazzo, who filed the complaint with the Commission on Disabilities earlier this year, said he’s relieved the state is now involved.
But he is not happy the issues and the mistakes will have to be covered by taxpayer money.
“That frustrated me,” Palazzo said. “If they’d just taken the time to plan and done this correctly we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Cooper said the big picture is the playground sends a “can’t do it” message to children.
“The first thing you learn is you can’t do any of this,” Cooper said. “You don’t want to be the person on the outside looking through the fence.”
Town leaders met with the commission Wednesday and according to Cooper, West Warwick agreed to make a series of changes at taxpayers’ expense.
Cooper said by the end of the year, the town has to widen and level the path that leads to the gate, install signs indicating it opens outward and level the wood chips.
As weather permits, the town will be required to add at least two handicapped parking spots near the playground and create a rubberized path on an ADA compliant slope that weaves through the wood chips.
Neither Town Manager Ernie Zymlinski nor the inspector who gave the OK to open the playground have responded to requests for comment.