‘Aspirational’: Inclusivity and accessibility for Smiths Falls parks is top priority

A new play structure has been installed at Victoria Park in Smiths Falls. The town is looking to upgrade all of its parks so they are more accessible and inclusive for users. – Laurie Weir photo

Having a safe and accessible place to play for all ages and abilities is the focus of the parks and recreation master plan for the Town of Smiths Falls.

During a regular committee of the whole meeting on April 8, Stephanie Clark, the town’s parks and facilities director, presented plans to make this happen — approximately $3M through 2028.

A “high-level implementation plan” spanning five years, which will allow staff to create better and more inclusive spaces for the community, was presented to council for their endorsement.

“It’s an all-encompassing (plan) … we’d like to make inclusive and accessible wherever possible,” Clark said.

Separately, Clark said they are doing different types of initiatives, which will be brought back to council as the plan moves forward.

Coun. Jennifer Miller said she supported the report. “I would think that the budget pieces would be a separate approval piece each year with the budget.”

She asked if they needed full-sized play structures in each of the seven parks. “There are other things we could probably do that are maybe more creative and I think you’re doing that,” Miller said.

She supported Coun. Peter McKenna who was looking at a comparison chart to see the changes being made, “before we cement the details.”

Clark said not every playground will be full-sized. It will be budget-dependent in some cases, she noted. “We’d be incorporating different pieces or a smaller play structure. Not everything has to be the size of what’s down at Lower Reach Park. Not every footprint is able to withstand that.”

The master plan does call for a play structure in each neighbourhood, Clark said. “But that doesn’t preclude us from getting creative with different types of play structures.”

Coun. Jay Brennan said it is “almost aspirational … with my bad math that’s about $2.5M worth of work to do and we’re not going to do that overnight. I support the plan but am not approving of every project as written because I do have questions.”

Brennan asked about Lower Reach Park. There is a study in place to revitalize that playground; what is it expected to look like?

“I’d also like to ask where we’re going to put a playground at the community centre,” he said. “But that will come up as we go along.”

Mayor Shawn Pankow said it’s great to have sensory features in the parks, “especially for kids living on the autism spectrum.”

He said once the rubberized mats are placed, they won’t need to replace mulch annually like they are now, but it’s a bigger investment to do this one-time thing. “It improves accessibility.”

Clark said they’re investigating different types of mats, as they all have varying lengths of durability.

“A lot of it comes down to weather, adjacency to salt … so we want to make sure it’s the appropriate feature for that structure.”

She said technically, the mulched chips are accessible, but it isn’t as if someone can’t manoeuvre their mobility device across it. “The poured rubberized matting is very expensive.”

Coun. Dawn Quinn asked about people who use wheelchairs.

Clark added that features will be available at each structure that will allow this to happen.

Pankow said this “forward-thinking document” will help staff guide their decisions and budget recommendations. “It’s also an opportunity to track grants when we have this plan in place,” Pankow said.

Having this master plan for recreation aims to allow kids to access these playgrounds within 200 metres of their homes, the mayor said, and is “forward thinking,” as parents don’t have to drive them around town.

Clark said she’s excited about the changes.

“Ten years ago we didn’t have this level of options,” she said. “And as Coun. Brennan said, I’m nothing if not aspirational.”

To view the plans for the local parks, check out this link.

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