Fully accessible playground at White Park gets funding

Now that Concord City Council has approved funds for a new Monkey Around Playground at White Park, a years-long project is one step closer to realization.

Now that Concord City Council has approved funds for a new Monkey Around Playground at White Park, a years-long project is one step closer to realization. Courtesy—

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 01-09-2024 4:34 PM

Construction on the city’s first fully accessible playground at White Park is expected to begin later this year after the Concord City Council approved funding Monday night.

Plans for the Monkey Around Playground include ramps, a wheelchair-accessible swing and merry-go-round and solid surfacing underneath, according to Parks and Recreation Director David Gill. With the funding sign-off, construction is currently targeted to begin in the late fall of this year.

“The thought that we will have an all-inclusive playground in place by the end of this year is just tremendous,” said Jonathan Smith, chair of the Friends of White Park. “We obviously think White Park is very special in and of itself, but the thought of having a playground that does work for everybody is exciting.”

The volunteer group has worked to gather community input, guide the design and raise funds throughout the life of the project. Deodonne Dustin Bhattarai, a board member of the Friends of White Park, spoke at Monday’s meeting alongside her nine-year-old son Bodhi, who uses a wheelchair.

“We’re all really excited that we’ve gotten to this point in the project — it’s been a number of years that we’ve all been working on this,” Bhattarai said.

Bodhi spoke to councilors last May about the importance of making playgrounds more accessible and inclusive.

“I love ice skating at White Park, but I don’t really go there in the summer because I can’t play on the playground,” Bodhi said in his testimony, noting that the woodchips around the playground are not an accessible surface. “I want playgrounds to be accessible because it would be really cool to play whenever I want, with anyone I want.”

Currently, the closest fully accessible playground to Bodhi is in Nashua.

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With few accessible playgrounds in the state and none in the city, Gill said, the project will only expand White Park’s regional attraction.

“For the city to have its first all-inclusive playground is important for the entire community,” Gill said.

Now in its 30th year, the current Monkey Around Playground was built in 1994 with donations and community labor and was expected to last about 20 years. A new playground has been on the horizon for more than a decade, and the city formally got moving on replacement plans in 2018.

Councilors unanimously approved $350,000 of city funds to join the $50,000 of community donations in matching a $400,000 Land and Water Conservation grant. The $50,000 includes $42,000 from the Friends of White Park, $3,000 from the Black Ice Pond Hockey Association and $5,000 from an anonymous donor, City Manager Thomas Aspell noted to councilors.

“As someone who volunteered on the original Monkey Around Playground all those many years ago and who has watched it exceed its projected lifespan,” Mayor Byron Champlin said, “it’s gratifying to see it finally come to fruition.”