By water, or by land

Published 12:05 pm Thursday, January 21, 2016

AHOSKIE – When Trillium Health Resources awarded the Town of Ahoskie a $225,000 grant last summer to fund construction of an all-accessible playground at the town’s old recreation center – “Miracle on Main Street”, the town’s Parks & Recreation Department continued discussions on the grant’s use and also went about seeking contractors to complete the process.

Now, the town may be offered an alternative, and it comes as a suggestion from the grantor.

At the Jan. 12 meeting of the Ahoskie Town Council, Parks & Rec. Director Tina Pritchard informed Council that after consulting with Trillium, a Splash-Park might be more practical for the town’s recreation needs.

A splash-park consists of a several-thousand square-foot splash pad area – usually a vinyl mat – that has a number of water features. The actual spot, sometimes shaped like a pentagon, includes flowing, jetting and misting water structures with play zones for different age groups.

“Trillium’s argument was that this would be something for all of our children, not just (those); but would be inclusive as well,” said Pritchard.

The town already had plans for a water park, to be funded by a future PARTF (Parks & Recreation Trust Fund) grant – which provides dollar-for-dollar matching grants to local governments for parks and recreational projects to serve the public. Preliminary plans called for the Splash-Park to be located within the Ahoskie Creek Recreation Complex, located off North Memorial Drive.

“They (Trillium) were trying to think of ways they could serve everyone,” Pritchard stated. “So they came back to us and asked if we would like to have a Splash-Park, would you like for us to fund that?”

Pritchard said there was an issue in one of the components in the all-accessible upgrade plan, which is what brought them to the idea of the alternative.

Town Manager Tony Hammond said when East Carolina University did a local recreation study a decade ago, and most recently another in 2009, a splash-park was one of the items citizens who responded said they would like to see in the town.

Councilman Charles Freeman wanted to make certain the change in projects would not alter the awarding of the grant. Pritchard said rather this was actually Trillium’s suggestion.

“We actually talked to them about the number of children in our population who actually would use an all-inclusive park,” Pritchard continued, “and while Hertford County might have (them), we felt the Town of Ahoskie really doesn’t; so that’s why they came back with the idea of a splash-park.”

Councilwoman Linda Blackburn inquired about the possibility of both projects.

“You could have one or the other,” Pritchard said, “either the playground or the splash-park; that’s what they’re offering.”

The P&R director also said the cost of the splash-park would be about $50,000 more than the amount of the Trillium grant.

“The reason ours was worth $275,000 was because we would be using re-cycled water,” said Hammond. “It would also be a sheltered area with different types of water featured designed for small activities for children to play in. It’s not a lot of mechanical other than the re-use system.”

Pritchard did admit splash-park usage is seasonal, dependent upon the summer months for maximum appeal.

Council asked once more what was being done to upgrade accessibility if the project’s purpose was changed.

“There’s some things we could do ourselves that could make the facilities available to the handicapped that our insurance companies think would be a lot safer,” said Hammond. “We would have to work that into next year’s budget.”

Pritchard said another upgrade to “Miracle on Main Street”: the installation of restroom facilities, would still be taking place and that equipment for the install would be arriving at the site shortly.

“We haven’t forgotten about that,” Pritchard reminded.

When asked about maintenance by Councilman Justin Freeman, Hammond said that operation could be handled with current town personnel.

“I would say that Randy Miller, who does a lot of our maintenance for our sprinkler system, would be very capable of handling that system,” Hammond acknowledged.

Council then saw an online video presentation of splash-parks in other cities like Williamsburg, VA, Morehead City, and even neighboring Woodland in Northampton County.

Justin Freeman asked about safety during non-hours of operation, namely nights. Thomas Mizzell, a citizen who attended the Council meeting, asked about the hours the splash-park would be in use.

“We would just shut it down,” Hammond replied to the first question. “The hours of operation would have to be something we would have to work out and discuss. Parks & Recreation would maintain it, but we’re not far enough along to discuss that right now.”

Council took no formal action on a possible switch from inclusive accessibility to a splash-park. They did tell Pritchard after discussion for her to continue talks with Trillium on a final goal for use of the grant funds.