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Council approves Kids Kastle grant request; Knull wants more equipment for those with disabilities

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 4/10/19

Middletown Borough Council will apply for a state grant to fund the replacement of the Kids Kastle playground in Hoffer Park.

The borough closed Kids Kastle on June 4, after receiving a report …

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Council approves Kids Kastle grant request; Knull wants more equipment for those with disabilities

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Middletown Borough Council will apply for a state grant to fund the replacement of the Kids Kastle playground in Hoffer Park.

The borough closed Kids Kastle on June 4, after receiving a report from a consultant that detailed safety issues at the playground. The total cost of the new playground — including site excavation, equipment, and supporting features such as park benches and security lighting — is estimated at $924,205, according to grant application documents put together for the borough by consulting engineers HRG.

Councilor Dawn Knull was the lone vote against the application April 2. Knull during an earlier council meeting expressed concerns that the proposed playground does not have enough equipment that can be used by children with disabilities. She advocated removing some playground items and replacing them with equipment that can be used by those children.

“It’s not that I’m against the grant, not that I’m against the playground. I’m against [that] we agreed to take some things out and they were still kept in, and I’m not for paying $15,000 for something that shouldn’t be in,” Knull said before casting her vote.

Speaking with the Press & Journal on Friday, Knull referred to minutes from council’s March 16 meeting showing council had agreed to remove three motorcycle spring riders and a sphere. These items were to be replaced with equipment that would comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

But Knull said the drawings presented to council April 2 for submission to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for the grant still showed the sphere, which she said costs $15,000.

The minutes refer to the sphere as ADA-compliant. However, Knull said she has spoken with multiple parents of children with disabilities in the borough who told her that the sphere is of little to no use for their children.

“To me, it’s not ADA compliant for someone in a wheelchair,” Knull said. “This $15,000 thing will not help them. We should leave that spot open so we can (put in)” other playground equipment that is truly ADA compliant.

Knull said she did not feel she could vote to apply for the grant, and have the sphere removed and replaced later, because she said council was told once the playground drawings are submitted for the grant, the borough is bound by the drawings.

Immediately following Knull’s vote, Council Vice President Mike Woodworth asked her, “So you want to can the whole thing over one piece of equipment?”

Knull later told the Press & Journal she knew she did not have the votes to stop the grant application, but thought it necessary to vote as she did as a matter of “principle.”

Response to Knull

Responding to Knull’s comments, Council President Angela Lloyd said “minor changes” to playground drawings and plans may be made after the grant application has been submitted to DCNR, according to the engineer with HRG.

Lloyd also noted the decision to keep the Sensory Dome, and to add an Inclusive Whirl, was approved by a majority vote of council. Both pieces of equipment are ADA-compliant, Lloyd added.

Woodworth said that the piece of equipment council planned to replace, the Sensory Dome, costs $10,598.

The piece has openings large enough for children in mobility devices to maneuver through, he said, and “add-on modules” can be integrated into the dome to make it suitable for children with different levels of ability.

Woodworth said an updated design by engineers showed adequate space for both the dome and Inclusive Whirl, if parts of the design were reorganized.

Keeping both pieces gives the playground more inclusive play elements, and allows children of all abilities to play together instead of separately, Woodworth said.

Designs showing the dome taken out for the whirl, and a design showing both pieces included in the playground, were both presented to council for consideration, Woodworth said.

Woodworth said while “minor changes and adjustments” can be made to the playground design after submitting the application, “major changes” are not possible as they would alter the project’s scope and budget by too much of a degree.

Financial details

The cost breakdown of the $924,205 cost as put together by HRG was made public by the Middletown Area School District and attached to the agenda for the school board’s April 2 meeting, during which the board unanimously approved a letter of support for the borough’s grant request to the DCNR.

The borough is applying for $462,102.50 in grant funds from DCNR. To get the grant, the borough must provide $462,102.50 of its own money — or non-cash in-kind contribution — as a match.

The borough hopes to use as its match a $436,000 grant that the borough received years ago to fund construction of Woodlayne Court apartments on Wilson Street.

The developer repaid the grant to the borough in 2013. However, the borough needs approval from the state Department of Community and Economic Development for the $436,000 to be used as a match for the DCNR grant.

If DCED approves, the borough would add $26,102.50 of its own cash to match the $462,102.50. If DCED doesn’t approve, the borough is “on the hook” for coming up with the $436,000 some other way, borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told council before the vote.

DCED is expected to announce its decision in June regarding whether to approve the borough’s request to use the $436,000, Klinepeter said.

In addition, the borough can apply for other grants that could help meet the matching requirement, HRG’s Josh Sheetz told council during the meeting.

For example, the borough could apply for a Dauphin County gaming grant, or for a grant through the Commonwealth Financing Authority, Sheetz said.

The borough will compete with municipalities and organizations throughout Pennsylvania for the DCNR grant. Whether a grant is awarded, and for how much, is based on a numerical score the DCNR gives to each application, based on grant criteria.

DCNR will announce the grant awards in October or November. If the borough is awarded a grant, the grant money would become available to the borough after a contract with DCNR becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2020.

Competitive bidding

Besides seeking other grants, the borough can ramp up its own fundraising to raise money for the new playground between now and 2020, Lloyd said.

The borough so far has raised $3,810.45 towards the new playground, through private donations and through sale of engraved blocks made of wood from the original Kids Kastle, which opened in 1993.

The borough must seek competitive bids from contractors to build the playground, because the DCNR grant is funded with public money.

Competitive bidding could lower the price tag for the new playground below $924,205, Mayor James H. Curry III pointed out.

The borough also was planning to use the DCNR grant to help pay for constructing an underground bioretention basin in Hoffer Park that Klinepeter says is needed to meet stormwater requirements being imposed by the state.

However, HRG recommended the borough remove the basin from the project, as the maximum grant available from DCNR is $500,000 and the grant being applied for is $462,102.50 based just on the estimated cost of the playground.

HRG now suggests the borough address the basin “as a separate project for which other grant funding sources may be available,” Klinepeter said in an April 3 email to the Press & Journal.