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BENNINGTON — The popular playground at Willow Park, built in 1999, has exceeded its expected 20 year lifespan. Town officials say he existing large and small wood structures at the playground are no longer safe having exceeded their useable lifespan. Additionally, the existing playground design was built to older specifications that are not in accordance with current design principles.

A team consisting of the Director of Facilities Paul Dansereau, Assistant Director of Facilities Mark Sawyer, Community Development Director Shannon Barsotti, and Communications Coordinator Jonah Spivak has been created to work on the task of replacing the playground.

Research on concepts and costs for a new playground were begun begin initially in 2017 and were revisited in 2020. That earlier research has informed the current planning efforts and a timeline has been created for moving forward on this project. A request for proposals (RFP) to design and build a new playground has been released (a copy is available on the town website under Government / Reports and Documents). Or you can navigate directly to the page: https://benningtonvt.org/willow-park-rfp/. Submissions are due by Feb. 28.

The chosen vendor will submit conceptual designs and options to the Town between March and April. There will be outreach at that time to solicit input from parents, youth, teachers, and residents on the designs and options for the new playground.

The old playground will be removed in the early spring to avoid the potential hazards and safety concerns related to using the old playground in its current condition, Spivak said in a release.

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Despite this aggressive timeline, the Town is aware that there are challenges with contractors and materials that could create a gap between the time that the old playground is removed and the new one is built. The goal is to get it all done over the course of this coming summer and fall, but ultimately that final completion date might not be in the Town’s control.

“The worst case scenario is that we can’t get the new park installed before winter” said Spivak. “We are doing everything we can to avoid that, but we have to be frank and admit it is a possibility.”

Not having the playground available for any period of time is sure to create concern in the community. “Being up front about the process, the timeline, and our efforts to keep things moving, and communicating all of that to the community as the project proceeds is our goal” said Spivak in the release.

While costs for the new playground will not be known until the bids for the RFP come back in February, the expectation is that the project can be funded using monies available to the town as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The project meets guidelines for the use of those funds and is one of the top projects on the Town’s list of recommended uses for ARPA funding. A recent 2021 Citizen Survey asked residents which parks should be prioritized this year for improvement and Willow Park was the first choice for almost 60 percent of survey respondents.

One thing that will likely remain the same is the brick walkway honoring the donors to the original playground in 1999, which will be retained as a tribute to the citizen-led effort that created this community resource in the first place, the release stated.


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