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Handicap-accessible playground still inaccessible to wheelchairs

Target 12

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A West Warwick playground built with a state grant earmarked to make it handicap-accessible still needs major changes nearly a year after the state told the town to fix it.

The 2019 project cost just under $150,000, most of which was funded by a $100,000 R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) grant for handicap-accessible playgrounds.

But after it opened, there were a number of problems, starting in the parking lot where there were no handicapped parking spots and continuing on the asphalt path leading to the front gate.

Bob Cooper, executive secretary of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Commission on Disabilities, told Target 12, “most kids using a wheelchair” probably cannot get past the fence.

West Warwick resident Alan Palazzo filed the initial complaint last August, and the town agreed to make the necessary changes in December after the state got involved.

But a timeline for those changes stalled in January, prompting a sharply worded email to Town Manager Ernest Zmyslinski last month.

Zmyslinski was told to put a new plan in place by September 8 or the commission would hold a formal hearing on the issue, according to the email forwarded to Target 12.

Zmyslinski told Target 12, “there was a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Palazzo said that is not an excuse for work that he believes should’ve already been completed by the town’s Department of Public Works.

“They’ve completed other projects. Why not this one?” Palazzo asked. “In my opinion, West Warwick just doesn’t care.”

Assistant Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator Denyse Wilhelm and Zmylinski both said a plan is now in place, but there is no timeline for when the work will start or be completed.

A few issues have been repaired including the front gate, but widening the part of the path leading to it has not happened. There are still no handicapped parking spots, and no rubberized paths to make it easier for handicapped children to make it through the playground mulch.

Palazzo is frustrated the facility was approved as handicap-accessible in the first place and wonders why taxpayers will cover the cost of the improvements instead of the contractor.

“And I’ve seen cost estimates anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000,” he added. “No one ever went through the checklist of items for accessibility. It should’ve never been approved.”

The playground has been locked since March, according to Zmyslinski.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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