TOWN OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — An inclusive playground that was meant to be open to the public is actually now private and the key fundraisers say it's unacceptable.
Just a week ago, the ribbon was cut on the inclusive playground at the Arc Erie County at 205 Yorkshire Road. The playground, heavily funded by efforts from Mason's Mission, was meant to be a public space where kids of all abilities could play alongside one another. Just days later, a padlock and a "no trespassing" sign were placed on the fence around the park.
The Arc Erie County released this statement:
Thank you for your email regarding our new playground site in Tonawanda. Unfortunately, we were unable to overcome the legal and liability issues brought to our attention regarding its location on private property, the playground will only be open to the children with and without disabilities that The Arc Erie County New York supports under the supervision of our staff.
Jason Evechich, the founder of Mason's Mission, said in a phone interview he was shocked by the decision. "Thursday we have the ribbon cutting. Friday I get a phone call at some point saying we have to put a padlock on it, it can't be open to the public. Saturday morning, there's a ridiculous sign posted on the fence and that was it." Evechich says had he known this was the decision Arc Erie County would make, the funding process and effort his organization put into opening the park wouldn't have been the same. "You (The Aric Erie County) violated our commitment to this facility by not opening it to the public. That's just not what we stand for and it's unacceptable to us and they won't budge."
Mason's Mission contributed more than $40,000 to the park. The board will be voting whether or not to continue financial support following the decision to close the park to the public. "The hard part is developing the relationships between familied with limited edition children and families without. Cultivating that relationship and having them learn what inclusion is. You can't do that with a fence and a sign. It defeats the purpose of what we're trying to do. They (Arc Erie County) know this but it's not something high on their priority list," says Evechich.
The Town of Tonawanda is working on an alternative to this closed park by pushing forward plans for a truly public, inclusive park for all abilities. "This can fill the need of all the residents in the town. We've worked over the last 10, 15 years to make our community more welcoming to all people, disability or no disability," says Joseph Emminger, Tonawanda Town Supervisor.
The town has plans to remodel the park at Kenney Field. The project will cost a little over $100,000. It includes a raised platform area, the addition of wheelchair ramps and resurfacing. "This will make it so much easier to give them some independence and not feel left out," says Josh Rybicki, who was struggling to pull a wheelchair through the mud at Kenney Field.
The town is working on funding the project and hopes it can be finished in 2020.