A playground for every child

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Freemasons working to bring handicap-accessible playscape to borough

An artistic rendition, created by playground equipment manufacturer Game Time, of the handicap-accessible playground planned for Legion Field. Members from Naugatuck’s Shepherd-Salem Lodge No. 78 are currently raising funds to build the playground. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck police officer and member of Shepherd-Salem Lodge No. 78 Chip Schofield is working on making his plans for a handicap-accessible playground in the borough a reality.

Schofield said he was struck with the idea of creating a handicap-accessible playground three or four years ago after seeing his daughter’s disabled friend unable to join his daughter on the playground.

“I saw her kind of segregated, not being able to join the other kids,” Schofield said. “It’s sad to say but it took all this long to have something done.”

Shepherd-Salem Lodge No. 78, the Naugatuck branch of the Freemasons Society, is partnering with the Naugatuck Parks and Recreation Department to raise money to replace the existing playground equipment at Legion Field with wheelchair-accessible equipment that is suitable for children with disabilities like spinal injuries, autism, and blindness.

Features of the new playground would include equipment like adjustable basketball hoops for wheelchair users, handicap accessible ramps, a rubberized ground surface instead of mulch, swings with high backs and harnesses and even a wheelchair swing.

“Someone in a wheelchair would be able to experience that sensation of swinging and gliding,” Schofield said. “The more we sit down and the more we think about it, we just have more and more ideas.”

The playground would provide apparatus for disabled and non-disabled children on the same playscape.

“It’s not going to be segregated, where kids with disabilities play here and kids without disabilities play over here,” Schofield said. “It’s all-inclusive.”

Two years ago, Schofield joined Shepherd-Salem Lodge No. 78 and pitched his idea to then-senior officer of the lodge, Bert Hughes. Hughes said he thought the idea was a good community outreach project and is confident that the playground will become a reality.

“[The borough] is on board with us,” Hughes said. “We’ve gone through the proper procedures. If we raise enough, we will do this with other parks as well.”

The Freemasons have a detailed blueprint of what the playground would look like after replacement from Game Time, a playground equipment manufacturer that supplies playscape apparatus for children with disabilities.

The parks and recreation department and borough officials have agreed to donate the playground space at Legion Field and remove the existing equipment.

Schofield said the Freemasons decided to employ their project at Legion Field because it is highly utilized by the Parks and Recreation Department for their summer camps, exists in a highly residential community and has old equipment in need of replacement.

The cost of replacing the old equipment and installing the new equipment is estimated at $271,000. Schofield and Hughes said they hope to complete the project by October 2013.

The Freemasons and the Parks and Recreation Department have a host of fundraisers in store to reach their fundraising goal, including a carnival, golf tournament, scavenger hunt, touch-a-truck event and a black-tie event.

On Saturday, the society and department will be hosting a “Block Party on the Green” event on the Naugatuck Town Green from 1 to 5 p.m. to raise funds for the playscape. There will be vendors, a performance by the Naugatuck High School Jazz Band, and a dunk tank. Admission is free.

Linda Ramos, co-chair of the blight and beautification committee, is seeking vendors for the event at a price of $25, which will go directly to the playscape fund.

“This is something we need to have for those children,” Ramos said.

Interested vendors can contact Ramos at lsrgigi3@aol.com. The rain date for the fundraiser is May 20.