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Former councillor explains playground dismantling

Dear Editor: Growing up I learned that if someone pushes you down in the dirt you have to stand up and wipe yourself off, hence the reason for this letter. I am standing up and wiping myself off. Four years ago, I was elected to the town council of Bishop's Falls - a proud moment and something I had wanted to achieve since I was a teenager growing up in the west end.

Letter to the Editor -

Dear Editor:

Growing up I learned that if someone pushes you down in the dirt you have to stand up and wipe yourself off, hence the reason for this letter. I am standing up and wiping myself off.

Four years ago, I was elected to the town council of Bishop's Falls - a proud moment and something I had wanted to achieve since I was a teenager growing up in the west end.

At the beginning of my term, the new council quickly learned that there was very little money in the town coffers.

We were unsure as to whether there was enough money to pay staff to the end of the year and there was a huge bill left owing to the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor for the Exploits Regional Services Board.

At that time, there was also a lot of controversy over residential development in the west end of Bishop's Falls. The land was developed and recreation/open space land was rezoned, resulting in an inability to have a regulation size ball field or a safe playground, safe from flying softballs potentially hitting a child.

Another concern was the condition of the playground equipment that was donated to the town by the Lions Club in 1994. The equipment had been repaired on numerous occasions and was in poor condition.

As a council, we wanted to come up with solutions so that the west end playground both remained in the west end of town and was safe for the children. Personally, I had played on the playground as a child, worked on the playground as a student, watched my children play there and prior to being elected, had written letters to the previous council expressing my concern about its safety. The playground has always been and will always be an important part of why I continue to live in and love my community.

On behalf of council and as chairperson of the recreation committee, I approached the Lions Club about potentially moving the Lions Memorial Playground up next to the Lions Club and asked if there was some land there that could be used for a playground and if they could help the town with improving or replacing the equipment. The goal was to eventually develop a walking trail around Diamond Pond and have both the playground and walking trail co-located - a similar concept to Cobbs Pond area in Gander. This would promote recreation for all ages.

The response was that they did not have any land other than what the building was on and what they used for parking. They also said they did not have the money to assist with replacing the playground equipment. I then approa-ched Adams Construction and asked if they had some land to spare that could be used for the Lions Memorial Playground but again was unsuccessful.

Over the past four years, the equipment continued to be vandalized and continued to deteriorate. It had been repaired on numerous occasions.

In July 2009, town staff approached council citing that the west end playground was extremely unsafe and that children were at risk of injury unless some action was taken. The council made a unanimous decision to remove the unsafe playground equipment and store it until it was determined what our next course of action should be.

Practicing due diligence, we consulted with Recreation Newfoundland and Labrador, who advised us to speak with a playground equipment safety expert who works with the City of Mount Pearl.

We contacted the individual and he said that 15-year-old playground equipment, specifically a slide, that has been repaired numerous times, has outlived its useful life and is unfit for public use.

He also felt that the merry-go-round was unsafe and that merry-go-rounds have been removed in other parts of the province because of the high incidence of injury. Children were getting their legs caught underneath and ending up in the emergency department.

The playground equipment was stored at the Faulkner Recreation Complex, by the blue building, and children were seen climbing on the scraped equipment, which posed another safety issue. We decided to dispose of the irreparable equipment to ensure safety.

A resident approached staff and asked if he could purchase the equipment for $50 and agreed to remove it for us. We felt it was imperative to have the playground equipment removed and agreed to sell the equipment on the condition that the resident not use the equipment for public use; he signed a waiver stating it must be emphasized that this equipment is being disposed of because it is scrap and unfit for public use. The equipment was then removed.

In September, two months after the equipment was removed and two weeks prior to the municipal election, some Lions Club members requested a meeting and subsequently met with the Recreation Committee. Given that Lions Clubs International's motto is "Ready to Help Worldwide," I anticipated that they were coming to offer their help with the purchase of new playground equipment.

I attended the meeting with a stack of catalogues displaying beautiful new playground equipment, thinking that we could partner with the Lions Club and put an even better playground back but as the meeting progressed it very quickly became apparent that new equipment was not part of their agenda. (The members) expressed their dissatisfaction that council had removed the equipment, without consulting them and said they would make it an election issue. The comment was made that, "there are 36 members in the Lions Club and the members, their wives and families will make it difficult for people to be re-elected."

I brought up the fact that we had approached them three years ago about the deteriorating condition of the equipment but they did not even comment.

Would they rather that we left the equipment and risk having a child injured? The town's difficult financial position did not just happen in the last four years, as a matter of fact we have made strides in improving the finances. Also, the equipment did not deteriorate only in the past four years. It was 15 years old, worn out and unsafe.

A few days later, the president of the Bishop's Falls Lions Club, Oliver Rose, wrote a letter to the editor in the Advertiser about the playground equipment but instead of naming all of the council, named my name only. This lead to the inaccurate impression that I was the only one who made the decision about the playground's future. Actions such as this contradicts the Lions Code of Ethics which states that 'Lions members are to be careful with their criticism and liberal with their praise; to build up and not destroy'. It is important to note that all decisions related to the removal and subsequent disposal of the equipment were voted in favor of unanimously by all of the council (see records of Public Council Meeting 1248 and 1250). It is also important to note that we, as a council, did what we felt was best for the children. Safety has to be a priority.

Council also decided to publicly and transparently advertise that the town would be accepting proposals for residential development of the west end recreation area and stressed that the Lions Memorial Playground must be included in the development. This process would ensure that there is equal opportunity for developers to submit a proposal and also ensure that the Lions Memorial Playground remains an integral part of the life of the children growing up in the west end of Bishop's Falls.

In closing, I would encourage the residents of Bishop's Falls to obtain all the facts before making important decisions. Please do not base decisions on the "rumour mill" or the limited facts that others choose to share. Our community needs us, more than ever. The town of Bishop's Falls has always had a strong sense of community. To maintain this, we need to work together and not lose sight of our goals.

Blaming individuals will only create a counterproductive, unhealthy environment and dampens our community spirit. Let them be Kids and the community of Avondale, NL, offers a good example of how working together and building community capacity on the grass roots level, can accomplish goals like building a beautiful playground. I would encourage our citizens and community groups to look at what Avondale has achieved and start working together to put the playground back.

I would also like to thank all the people who continued to have faith in me and supported me once again. I am grateful for having the opportunity to having served our community for the last four years. Bless you all and God bless Bishop's Falls.

Nancy Stewart

Bishop's Falls

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