Community Playground Funding Reduced; CPC Does Same For Affordable Housing Trust

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Community Preservation Act

The Castle in the Clouds playground was demolished in November after being declared unsafe. Voters at town meeting will be asked to approve $500,000 in community preservation funds for a new playground. FILE PHOTO 

HARWICH — The community preservation committee saw the need for a community playground adjacent to the Harwich Elementary School, but wrestled with funding the entire project when deliberating on how the town’s Community Preservation Act funds should be spent in the May town meeting.

The committee ended up reducing the playground request from $641,035 to $500,000, and also reduced the affordable housing trust request from $550,000 to $250,000. Reductions made by the committee were based on the number of project requests and funding availability.

The committee took quick action last Thursday night to approve the annual debt accrued for previously purchased open space under previous Cape Cod Land Bank initiative. The committee approved $341,750 to cover the Land Bank debt for FY21.

But the main focus of the evening was the $641,035 request for the Harwich Community Playground Project. The 25-year-old Castle in the Clouds playground at the school site was closed and torn down in November because of safety issues based on structural decay and carcinogenic materials in the wood that made up the structural components of the playground.

Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers pitched the playground project to the committee as a community project. There are areas where Monomoy Regional School District and the town can step up to help to defray the costs, he said. A number of components, such as water line installation, parking, brickwork, signage, and the multi-purpose pavilion, could be provided through town and community contributions, he said. The town participated in the demolition of the playground, reducing costs by $30,000. There us also a $40,000 contribution raised through school initiatives. These savings also reduce the 10 percent contingency request. The original estimate for the project was $681,034; with the reductions, he said, the CPA request could be reduced from $641,035 to $565,374.

This “would not be a community playground without community support,” he said.

CPC Chairman David Nixon questioned the funding of the proposed multi-purpose pavilion. Because it will be used for classroom and school based activities, the school district should be paying for the pavilion, he said. Powers said it would have additional functions and could be used by families to hold picnics on weekends, but he added that funding for the pavilion would not be included in the CPA request but would be built through community contributions.

Committee member James Donovan asked why a poured rubber matting was proposed instead of a wood-chip base like one at Brooks Park facilities. Harwich Elementary School Principal Mary Oldach said there are students in the school who use wheelchairs and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements must be met.

There was much discussion about the money available for recreation projects. This year's requests in that category include new lighting at Whitehouse Field, fencing at Brooks Park and the Senior Memorial Softball field, and a revitalization project for Sand Pond.

Nixon took the position that the town is responsible for replacing the playground, but he said some of the aspects of the project go well beyond that. He floated $421,000 as his number for the playground project, adding that he could go to $450,000. A motion that effect was not seconded. Members of the committee went back and forth over funds available in the account designated for recreation and monies in the undesignated account.

Committee member Mary Maslowski questioned whether the requested figure was realistic. A new playground installed in Chatham less than half the size cost close to $350,000, she said, urging the committee to provide enough money so the project can move forward. Member John Ketchum proposed a figure of $500,000, and the committee agreed to recommend that amount to town meeting in May by a 6-1 vote.

Given funding requests in the designated accounts and the undesignated pool of CPA money, the committee also had to take a hard look at funding community housing projects. The affordable housing trust requested $550,000, with $50,000 designated for a part-time housing coordinator. There was an additional request for $200,000 from the housing authority for its three-year rental assistance program.

Committee member Donna Kalinick suggested $100,000 this year and another $100,000 next year for the rental assistance program. But there were questions about how it would impact the authority’s ability to sign up people without funding for the three-year program. The committee agreed to recommend $200,000 for the program.

The focus shifted to the affordable housing trust request for $550,000. The previous vote left only $138,511 in the housing category (a certain amount of total CPA funds must be spent in specific categories and the remaining money can be moved around) and any additional funds would have to come out of the undesignated funds. Members agreed some of that money was necessary to fund the recreational projects being requested.

It was pointed out the affordable housing trust has yet to develop an action plan for housing. Kalinick said if the trust was provided another $250,000, it would have $1 million to develop housing projects. Donovan questioned why the trust needs $1 million. Kalinick said it is because of the rising per unit cost to develop affordable housing. Maslowski said she did not want to put the trust at risk of losing opportunities and the $1 million would help in developing a small number of units.

Nixon also raised questions about the need for $50,000 for the part-time housing coordinator and suggested $30,000 be provided for the position. The committee ultimately recommended $250,000 for the trust, with $50,000 specified for the housing coordinator.

Pointing out that Recreation Department Director Eric Beebe ranked the $380,360 Whitehouse Field lighting project number one for his department, the committee voted to recommend that funding to town meeting. Members also recommended $72,657 for the Brooks Park fencing project.

With $10,700 remaining the committee took no action to fund the Sand Pond revitalization project.