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Great decision to fund Kids Kastle rebuild: Editorial

Posted 7/11/18

When you are a municipality with a multi-million-dollar budget such as the borough of Middletown, you have a lot of spending decisions to make.

They aren’t always easy decisions, …

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Great decision to fund Kids Kastle rebuild: Editorial

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When you are a municipality with a multi-million-dollar budget such as the borough of Middletown, you have a lot of spending decisions to make.

They aren’t always easy decisions, that’s for sure. Residents have strong opinions, and they usually want that money spent on something that will have the biggest positive impact on their lives, be it having their street paved or their electric rates held steady.

Some of you might think that putting $436,000 toward borough playgrounds — including paying for a new Kids Kastle in Hoffer Park — isn’t the best use of funds.

We disagree.

Parks are a key part of the quality of life in any community, and Kids Kastle — which originally was built through the efforts of fundraising in the community more than 25 years ago — added a special touch to Hoffer Park.

But the decades-old structure has outlived its useful life. What a life it was. Think about the thousands of youngsters who have played on it over the years, and the memories their parents and grandparents have of taking them to play on it.

Council closed Kids Kastle on June 4, over concerns that the playground is no longer safe for children because of deterioration that has occurred over time.

While it was a tough decision, it had to be done. Safety must come first. It also no longer meets government requirements for handicapped accessibility, which have changed considerably since Kids Kastle opened.

A new Kids Kastle will cost $200,000 to $250,000, according to an estimate from Play By Design, an Ithaca, New York, consulting firm the borough hired for input on what to do about Kids Kastle.

We are confident that community fundraising could have come up with that amount, but we are pleased that the borough might have found a way around it.

Council during its June 19 meeting voted 6-0 to seek permission from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to re-allocate $436,000 earmarked for a new residential loan program. The money instead would be used to pay for new equipment at Kids Kastle and at other playgrounds in Middletown.

Council needs state permission because the $436,000 comes from a state grant that the borough gave to a developer to build Woodlayne Court apartments on Wilson Street. Woodlayne Court repaid the grant to the borough in 2013, and the $436,000 has been sitting unused since.

In April 2017, council received DCED approval to use the money for a new residential loan program proposed by then-council member Diana McGlone. We had high hopes for that residential loan program, but we see this use of the money as more important.

We were surprised to learn that the borough has a residential loan program in place, but no new loans are being made and haven’t been made for years, and that the borough is trying to collect a total of $36,000 in outstanding payments from people who received loans up to 10 years ago.

In fact, the borough has $109,000 available for the loans, but the loan program is dormant for now. The borough needs to get that money it is owed and start loaning out that money.

But back to Kids Kastle: The suggestion that the borough ask DCED about switching the funds to Kids Kastle and for playground equipment came from Mayor James H. Curry III. Kudos to him, although his statement that playground equipment will drive people into the town and help with development — along with outdoor seating at restaurants and bars — might be a stretch.

Curry has proposed replacing Kids Kastle with something “bigger and better” than what is there now. That sounds like a good idea, and we are interested in hearing more.

We also are curious what the rest of the funds could do for Middletown’s five other parks with playgrounds besides Hoffer — Oak Hills, Frey Manor, Colston Park, Etnoyer’s Park (also known as Met-Ed), and Elner Overdeer Park next to the municipal building.

Let’s hope the state releases the money, so that area children soon will be able to make their own memories on a new and improved Kids Kastle.