BY MILLIE ROTHROCK | Personal
Wythe County is applying for a grant from the Wythe-Bland Foundation to fund the replacement of playground equipment at Ager Park. At a recent meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution allowing county staff, as well as the county’s parks and recreation department, to apply for the grant.
This is the county’s second year applying for a foundation grant to replace playground equipment; he applied last year, but didn’t get a grant.
At the board of supervisors’ last meeting on Tuesday, two supervisors – Stacy Terry and Rolland Cook – said residents had contacted them about the condition of the playground.
On Thursday, Terry said he had been contacted about the lack of maintenance of the playground and the dirty and unstocked toilets.
Cook said he got a call from someone saying the playground was falling and not safe for children. However, after inspecting the playing field itself, Cook disagrees.
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“There are a lot of repairs needed, but I don’t agree that it’s unsafe or unsuitable for children,” Cook said after the meeting. “Yes, there are activity stations that are broken, but I don’t think they are a security issue. The things I saw wrong were: it badly needs painting, the rubber deck needs to be put back in place, the boards need to be replaced in the fence, a chain ladder step is missing, the boardwalk needs to be redone and the parking lot needs to be redone… To sum it up, I can see the citizen’s point of view, it looks bad, but I don’t think it needs to be closed yet for security reasons.
Vice President Ryan Lawson agrees with Cook. She said after reading comments on social media that the park was in a “dangerous” state, she visited the park to see for herself.
“I don’t think it’s dangerous,” she said, adding that some boards were broken and she found a screw sticking out of some equipment; she took it out and threw it away. She also saw a broken cinder block. The playground is definitely in need of repairs, but isn’t dangerous, Lawson said.
As for the price of replacement playground equipment, Deputy County Administrator Matt Hankins said previous estimates were in the range of $900,000, but county staff asked more estimates and the price should be significantly lower. He said if the county did not receive the grant, he would seek another source of funding for the playground project.
County Administrator Stephen Bear agreed the playground needed refurbishment until new equipment could be purchased.
“Older kids come in and abuse more than they play,” he said.
As part of the county’s search for the grant application, the sheriff’s office set up a traffic counter in the lower parking lot. According to Elizabeth Delp, Wythe County Public Information Officer, an average of 3,451 vehicles enter the parking lot each month.
Ager Park was developed through a successful community and corporate fundraising effort in the early 1990s. The park opened in 1994.
“Since that time, the county has operated, maintained and improved portions of the existing playground to maximize its useful life,” the resolution reads. “Despite even the best efforts to maintain the facilities, the materials have deteriorated while the philosophy and design of the game has evolved beyond the development envisioned in the original playground elements.”
The county operated the playground to promote fitness for children and families in Wythe County, Wytheville, Rural Retreat and Bland County. Playground-derived activities and skills are integral to the development of key motor movement, social interaction and exploration for children who use the playground, the resolution says.
Most of the playground equipment is made of wood and includes towers, bridges, forts, swings, slides and more.
The county is asking the foundation to replace the playground, thereby improving the health, well-being and fitness of future generations of children and their families, the resolution states.
Grant applications are due August 1; grants will be awarded in October.
Ager Park is located at 705 Stafford Umberger Drive. In addition to the playground, there is a picnic shelter, baseball/softball fields, concession stand, basketball court, tennis courts. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. April through October. The picnic shelter can be reserved for groups of up to 50 people. Call 223-4517 for more information.
To reach journalist Millie Rothrock, call 276-228-6611, ext. 573, or email [email protected]