A committee of town officials and residents is working toward a proposal for a playground and new exercise equipment area that could be installed in Waveny Park as early as next spring.
Convened this past summer, the committee is working within its approved budget of $455,000 while seeking to fundraise $50,000 for the widely anticipated addition to New Canaan’s largest park, according to Ryan Restivo, assistant parks superintendent in the Department of Public Works.
“Our objective is to revamp the fitness area that’s currently there that’s designed for ages 13-plus,” Restivo told members of the Parks & Recreation Commission at their Sept. 20 meeting, held at Lapham Community Center and via videoconference. “And then we’re going to build a renowned playground, designed for ages two through 12. So we would like to promote health and recreational needs for all abilities and create an inclusive and top-100 playground in the United States, and I think it’s something we can achieve.”
The town’s plan to create a children’s playground in Waveny was first publicly floated in early-2021. Currently, there’s a 60-by-60-foot all-abilities fitness station/athletic area located on a grassy, tree-shaded island across the parking lot for the Orchard Field. Kids often try to play on the exercise equipment, though it’s not designed for them, officials have said, and a playground would be a nice addition given that many younger siblings of those playing sports on the nearby fields need an area of their own during games. The 12 pieces of equipment there also are outdated and breaking down, Restivo said.
The new playground and revamped fitness area would encompass a total area of 130-by-60 feet, he said.
“Our plan now is to fundraise and seek grants, survey the site, select equipment, develop a design, and then ideally spring of 2024, we’d like to remove the existing equipment and materials, prep and excavate the site, and then install curbing and fencing, and lastly, we would install the equipment and the Poured-In-Place rubber surfacing,” he said. “So instead of wood chips, we’re looking to do the Poured-In-Place surface, which is similar to Mead Park right now. And that has a longer life, so it’s a little more expensive up front, but it’s much better off in the long run.”
Committee members include Monica Capela, who co-founded the successful Friends of Mead Park Playground with Allyson Mahoney, Restivo said.
“We had a long discussion because she fundraised for Mead Park,” he said. “So, she’s more than willing to kind of take the lead on the fundraising. I’m willing to help every step of the way, and I’m sure the committee is as well.”
A site sketch that Restivo shared with the Commission showed the exercise area closer to the main road through Waveny, and the playground area set further in. They would be enclosed and separated by a three-rail split railing and black wire mesh, he said.
Three trees would need to come down in order to make room for the new spaces—a dying ash tree and two scrubby pines, officials said, that will be replaced—and the island will also be cordoned off by granite curbing, while an existing asphalt path will be preserved for access from the lot.
The playground area itself will include equipment appropriate for 2- to 5-year-olds and, separately, 5- to 12-year-olds, Restivo said.
Commissioners asked when the committee is planning to break ground (April 2024, ideally) whether the wood chips now in place in the fitness area will be brought back (no), whether the asphalt path is the only entrance to the playground area (no it’s the disabled, ADA-compliant entrance, but people can approach from any direction on the grass), whether the trees to be removed provide shade (no), whether the $455,000 has already been approved (yes it’s listed as bonded funding in the approved budget), whether the committee anticipates a need to raise more than $50,000 given rising costs (that goal will be tracked and revisited in December) and whether it’s possible to lock down lower-cost contracts before prices rise in January (there probably isn’t time because the committee will need to agree on a design).
At the suggestion that such a good playground could become a draw for out-of-town kids, Commissioner Keith Richey said he didn’t think that would happen because the families visiting Waveny with kids who try to play at the exercise stations are already local and at the park for other reasons.
“When you say attracting people from other towns, to me that doesn’t seem that likely,” Richey said. “It seems like it already was your destination, but now the kids will have a nicer playground.”
Commissioner Lindsey Heron disagreed, saying many new families coming to New Canaan from cities search neighboring towns—such as Darien—for good playgrounds.
“I would agree that right now, Wavey is not a destination because it isn’t a playground, but when there is a true playground, I think it will be within town and maybe for surrounding communities more of a destination,” she said.
Restivo reviewed some different styles of playgrounds that the committee currently is looking at. The committee’s proposal will be made by majority vote, he said. In any case, “we decided it’s best to use muted colors” for the equipment, Restivo said.
“We had a discussion and figured with Waveny’s reputation it would be best to use greens, browns, grays—just so it doesn’t really stand out and it kind of limits the eyesore,” he said.
Each playground configuration includes a “centerpiece structure” that includes an ADA-accessible ramp “allowing easy access for children of all abilities, and then additional accessible standing structures will be added to the playground area, as well,” Restivo said.
The exact type of fitness equipment will be selected, in part, based on the committee’s budget, he said. It most likely will consist of separate standing structures, he said.
The committee also is “looking to include some tables and benches,” he said.
“These will mimic others in Waveny Park and other parts of New Canaan, so donors can contribute,” Restivo said.
Work ahead of the committee also includes developing a welcome sign and a “purpose statement,” he said. A working purpose statement that Restivo drafted says, “The purpose behind Waveny Park’s playground and fitness area is to encourage children and adults of all age groups and abilities to be active, be social, and be determined. No matter one’s physicality, Waveny playground and fitness area will create ways to move around and enhance health. The area will encourage visitors to interact with one another, share experiences, and build new friendships. It will motivate individuals and promote determination. Visitors shall set fitness goals and push themselves and others to higher limits.”
Parks & Rec Chair George Benington advised Restivo and the committee to reach out to some of New Canaan’s “wonderful foundations” such as the New Canaan Community Foundation, and service organizations such as the Exchange Club.
“You can ask each one for $5,000, $10,000, you can probably get there pretty quick, because I think this is targeted, it’s youth services, community outreach, and it hits all the check marks,” Benington said.