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Toby May Field To Get Handicapped-Accessible Playground Installed

New London— Splintered wooden and rusted metal swings at Toby May Field soon will be replaced by new, handicapped-accessible playground equipment.

By October, children of all abilities will be racing down slides, swinging on tires and shinnying up poles at the park on Ocean Avenue.

The National Center for Boundless Playgrounds, a nonprofit organization based in Bloomfield, will design the new playground. At least 70 percent of the equipment in Boundless playgrounds is accessible to the handicapped, a greater percentage than called for in the Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas.

The New London Rotary Club has championed the project in connection with the 100th anniversary of Rotary International, a nonprofit service organization whose members are business and professional leaders. When the club sought ideas for a service project, city officials said New London needed up-to-date, handicapped-accessible playgrounds.

“The current playground is an accident waiting to happen,” architect Richard Gipstein, co-chairman of the club's centennial project committee, said of the Toby May Field facility.

With its central location, accessibility to bus transportation and visibility, the field is the perfect location for a “state-of-the-art” playground, Gipstein said.

“It is just a more conscious way of designing the equipment,” Margaret Sheridan, a human development professor at Connecticut College, said of the Boundless playground. “The point is they (disabled children) should have the kind of experience everyone else has.”

Connecticut has 22 Boundless playgrounds in use, or in the process of being constructed. The closest in eastern Connecticut is in New Haven.

James Rosado, a project manager for Boundless, said the organization's playgrounds provide numerous benefits and experiences for children. He said they feature ramps and the placement of rubber surfacing under high-risk equipment, such as swings, to enhance safety and accessibility. The playgrounds have semi-closed spaces to provide locations for social gatherings and sites for children with sensory-integration issues to have “time outs.”

Rosado said steppingstones on which children can balance help those with Down syndrome, and musical instruments help enhance sensory experiences and provide an interactive activity for those who cannot climb and jump.

A pavilion also will be built to provide shade and a resting place for adults supervising children.

The project's estimated cost is $290,000, with $230,850 already raised through donations from local businesses. The New London Rotary Foundation donated $40,000. The state Department of Environmental Protection gave the club $55,000 for the project.

Gipstein said work on the site is scheduled to begin in late summer, and that the club is anticipating the playground equipment will be installed by mid-fall.
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