Ricky and Ashley Arsenault were so excited to take their little girl to the new wheelchair accessible play structure at Billy Bridges Park in Summerside, they went the first day it was open.
Four-year-old Grace uses a wheelchair and the family was happy that their daughter now had a local option for a park to play in.
But it didn’t take long for them to run into problems and now the disappointed parents doubt they will return with Grace anytime soon.
“We’re not mad at the city, it’s just like, 'OK, you tried something that didn’t work, can we try to fix it now?'” said Ricky.
Their main concern is the material the city used to cover the ground around the play structure. It is a specially graded virgin wood fibre called Fibar. It’s widely used to cushion around playgrounds across North America and is certified for use with wheelchairs.
That being said, the Arsenaults found Grace could not move her wheelchair on her own when on the Fibar and even they had occasional trouble pushing her around on it. They also pointed to several places around the Fibar where it had been dug up by other kids playing, leaving divots where someone in a wheelchair could tip over.
They have other concerns about the structure too, but the Fibar material is the primary issue for them.
Sara Gallant is a family friend of the Arsenaults and lives across the street from the park. Her son had gross motor problems when he was younger and she suspects he would have had issues navigating the play structure.
“It’s a great park, don’t get me wrong,” said Gallant.
“Great for typically developing children, but those who have special needs will have issues navigating it,” added Gallant.
At city council’s recent committee meetings Coun. Cory Snow, who represents the section of Notre Dame Street on which Billy Bridges Park is located, put the idea of replacing the Fibar on the agenda.
“When we are going down the road of naming it Billy Bridges Park, after a Summerside person that has done very well and who has mobility issues, I think we owe it to Billy, I think we owe it to anybody within our community that does have mobility issues, accessibility issues, that we do the best we can (to make the park accessible),” said Snow.
Billy Bridges is a celebrated sledge hockey player from Summerside. Notre Dame Park was renamed in his honour last year.
JP Desrosiers, director of community services, told council that during the planning stages for the park’s renovations last year, his department was presented with two options for ground cover; the Fibar, which had a price tag of about $12,000 or a rubber groundcover material quoted at about $100,000.
The city accessed provincial funding last year to purchase the playground equipment. There was an overall budget of $189,000, about $119,000 of which was the play structure alone.
Fibar is certified for use with wheelchairs so, given the budget constraints of the project, the decision was made to use it, said Desrosiers.
He added that since the city has been made aware of some of these concerns it has called in the supplier to take a look. The company confirmed the city’s Fibar had been installed correctly and is operating as it should. Their only suggestion was that the material be periodically watered and tamped-down. City staff have been doing so periodically.
“The rubberized surface is known as the ‘Cadillac version,’ but Fibar … is nationally and internationally recognized as an accessible protective surface material,” said Desrosiers.
“Our plan, long-term, is to have Billy Bridges Park be a destination park. Making it fully accessible park from one end to the other – but that is a phased approach. One that will happen over the next number of years as budget allows,” he added.
Snow’s push to replace the Fibar material got some support around the council table. It was decided that the best course of action would be to put buying a rubber ground system for the playground on the city’s budget discussions for later this year.
In the meantime, the Arsenaults said they are not without play options for Grace as both Charlottetown and Kensington have playgrounds with rubber ground cover and they regularly take her to those communities to play.
But they hope to be able to play closer to home next summer.