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Kids Kingdom Debate Hinges on Volunteers; Meeting Tonight to Set Referendum

The debate over a $500,000 Kids Kingdom renovation project centers on whether to use a volunteer labor force.

The purpose of the meeting scheduled for 7:30 tonight [Wednesday] in the Brookfield High School auditorium has shifted from being a yes-or-no vote on to an informational session on the project and a vote to set the date for a referendum.

The project, which was originally slated to be on the ballot for the Parks Round II referendum, was moved to a Town Meeting with split and after Brookfield was awarded .

A petition began circulating after the BOF’s February 9 meeting to move the project back to a referendum. The petition and, to-date, has accumulated over 380 signatures, though only 235 have been officially verified by the Town Clerk’s Office.

The Town Meeting will now be used to have a discussion about the project as it stands and schedule the referendum, which must be between seven and 14 days from tonight’s meeting.

Town officials, pro and con, and petitioners alike all agree with the need to renovate Kids Kingdom and the need to do it sooner than later, as the current structure presents numerous safety hazards. Where they differ, however, is on the price and implementation.

While the speced costs [included above] are itemized, the overall project will be put out to bid once approved, per standard procedure, according to Dennis DiPinto, director of Parks and Recreation.

“This project was intended to go to bid from day one,” DiPinto said. “Just because this guy [Landscape Structures] has worked with us for a year doesn’t mean he gets a half-million dollar project,” he assured.

The bid that goes out, however, will have to specify exactly what the town is looking to purchase, including the labor force.

According to BOF Chairman Bill Tinsley, who was one of the spearheads of the petitioning effort, the playground can be built for between $350,000 and $360,000, with the bulk of the savings coming from eliminating $90,000 worth of installation costs by organizing a volunteer workforce.

“$500,000 is our outside number, it’s not our number,” First Selectman Bill Davidson said, though he added that there was “somewhat of a moral commitment” for the town to spend close to $250,000.

The state grant that was requested by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and approved by the Bond Commission in December is not a matching grant and has no strings attached to its use, other than it be dedicated to the Kids Kingdom project, however in the conversation that led to the grant request, Davidson proposed that the town would match the state’s donation on the project with a projected cost of $500,000.

“I think it would be totally wrong to do a $300,000 project and say, ‘Thank you, we put in our $50,000 and we’re done,’” he said.

While Tinsley stressed that he “wants to see us build a good playground that meets our needs by this spring,” it is his “personal belief that if we approve half-a-million dollars we’ll spend half-a-million dollars,” he said. Tinsley’s suggestion is that Brookfield residents should vote down the proposal at referendum and send it back to the BOS to consider a volunteer workforce.

The Kids Kingdom playscape, as it stands, .

Though a volunteer force has yet to be put together, “The second we get an approved project, I’m confident that the volunteer workforce will come together,” Tinsley said.

Davidson is less confident that a volunteer force can be put together in time to have the new playground finished by the summer.

“I’m not sure you can spontaneously recreate what Kids Kingdom was,” he said. “Yeah, we did that once, but I’m not sure you can just replicate it.”

According to Davidson, a volunteer effort has to be organic, grassroots and is not something that can be forced.

“The thing about a volunteer group is it comes to you, you don’t go out and get it,” he said. Were a qualified group to come to him with a plan to organize, he would then consider utilizing a volunteer workforce, he said.

This pulling together of a workforce would have to be finished before the project was put out to bid however shortly after the pending referendum to be scheduled for mid March, a mission that took over two years the first time around.

“Many comments are being made comparing this effort with the ‘89ers,” Tinsley said. This time around, because the funding is being secured separately, “that makes the volunteer effort for this playground much more focused and timed,” he suggested

“The irony of this whole thing is that when we proposed the playground way back then, this [it being built by volunteers] was the biggest controversy then,” said Nancy Power, who organized the 1989 effort along with Linda Mitten.

Though the fundraising effort took over two years, it was also a major reason the 1989 organizers were able to get so many volunteers to help with the construction, according to Power.

“With the fundraising, people became more aware of it,” she said, adding that she believes it would be much harder to get the same turnout today. “It was much easier 20 years ago — people weren’t working two jobs, there was more time,” Power said, reflecting on the former size of the PTOs and other volunteer organizations compared to their numbers today.

While Power wasn’t able to estimate how long it might take to cull together a volunteer force absent the fundraising process, overall, recruiting and organizing a few thousand volunteers is a “tremendous undertaking,” she said. “Huge.”

One local man who is familiar with organizing over a thousand volunteers to a single purpose, , who runs the , came forward to offer his expertise, but backed away due to the daunting size of the effort.

“It’s beyond our capabilities,” Brady said, as he would have to be dedicated to the project for the entire summer, forcing him to forego the other aspects of his ministry: helping to fix up the homes of those in need.

“I spoke with the First Selectman” about the project and came to the conclusion that “the guys that do it everyday are the guys who should be doing it — the professionals,” he said.

A professional crew that helps design playgrounds and organize a volunteer workforce also came forward, Must Have Play, a splinter company from Leathers, which helped Power, Mitten and the 1989 effort.

Must Have Play’s Michael Cohen, who worked for Bob Leathers up until his retirement a few years ago, has offered free consultation to build a Kids Kingdom II in the same style as the existing playground for $250,000.

Cohen stated that his company helps through the entire process, from designing something that the community wants to bringing together a volunteer force and organizing and supervising the build. He was also “very confident” that for the $250,000 quote, Brookfield would be able to build a playground with a comparable “play value” as the one there now.

“It will not look like the Landscape Structures design,” Cohen admitted. “If you want a manufactured playground, then Landscape Structures is as good as it gets. But if you want something like Kids Kingdom, then we are confident that we can help you achieve that for a whole lot less money.”

As with the Landscape Structures design, a Must Have Play structure would be “more than fully ADA compliant,” according to Cohen, “To the letter and the spirit of the law.”

Davidson was against going with Must Have Play’s proposal, as he believes the bid should be awarded to “a proven operator and a playground that we think is appropriate for the town of Brookfield.”

Cohen and his team have worked in the business for many years (almost a century collectively, according to Cohen), “As their own stand alone company, they don’t have a history,” Davidson said.

Going with the Must Have Play design route would mean a dramatically different Kids Kingdom II from the one proposed, however Landscape Structures also offers a community-build option.

According to their website, the company has overseen the installation of thousands of volunteer-built playgrounds and offers community-build consultations as part of their projects.

Steven DeVaux June 22, 2011 at 12:32 AM
Son of a gun. Bill Tinsley had it right on the money. Lower the cost with volunteers. Now with all the bids rejected and the current KK lableded unsafe (see the article above), kids will have no place to play for at least a year while the First Selectman focuses on his pet project, The Bike Path to Nowhere. Nothing like putting kids first, eh?
maureen sharkey June 22, 2011 at 01:01 AM
Michelle B. gave some sound suggestions for seeking organizations and let's also keep in mind that we have a very large popluation here in Brookfield - most of which, would be willing to help work on such a wonderful project. I'm not opposed to hiring "professionals" to plan/organize materials/delegate/etc...however, there is something to be said about members of this community coming together to build Kids' Kingdom 2. I wasn't around here 20 years ago when the first one was built but I can only imagine the kind of community spirit it built in Brookfield. I for one would volunteer to help build and my husband, who is a busy carpenter/contractor, would definitely take time to help. I know so many people that would also volunterr if they just knew about it. Perhaps there should be a meeting planned and advertised to the public asking those who would be interesting in volunteering to participate so that BOF and other officials have a better sense of Brookfield Residents who would like to be part of the "volunteer workforce". This might help to defer some costs. Many adults forget the pride and enthusiasm children, even young children, can have when volunteering their time to a worthy cause. And especially in building something that they will see for years to come. So please do not discount children as volunteers as well.
Steven DeVaux June 22, 2011 at 01:05 AM
Thank you Maureen! How about a meeting Friday, 1PM? Time and place to be determined?
Melissa Y June 22, 2011 at 11:13 AM
Why hasn't the Patch updated this story yet..I had to read that the project was cancelled this year on the News Times.
Bee Rye June 22, 2011 at 12:01 PM
BROOKFIELD -- First Selectman Bill Davidson announced in press release that the town received four bids from contractors for the Kids Kingdom playground reconstruction project June 13. However, because the bids exceeded the town's approved appropriation of $500,000, all four had to be rejected. Dennis DiPinto, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said in the press release, "We are working toward re-bidding this project in the next month so we can start reconstruction next year." Kids Kingdom is a playground that sits behind Town Hall on Pocono Road. Read more: http://www.newstimes.com/local/article/Brookfield-rejects-all-bids-for-Kids-Kingdom-1432583.php#ixzz1Q0P7PdZA
Howard Lasser June 22, 2011 at 12:12 PM
Before you all get your knickers in a twist you should read the actual media release, posted elsewhere on the patch. The newstimes article misquoted Dennis as saying construction would be next year. The actual quote in the release is “We are working toward re-bidding this project in the next month so that we can start construction this year.”
Retired June 22, 2011 at 12:20 PM
Michelle B. Bill Tinsley provided Dennis DePinto with a list of more than 300 volunteers for this project in an effort to bring the cost down to $350,000. So far, Mr. DePinto (and Mr. Davidson) has done nothing to incorporate volunteers into this project. That's unfortunate for the town.
Retired June 22, 2011 at 12:29 PM
Where in the Patch was the actual release posted?
Howard Lasser June 22, 2011 at 12:42 PM
Here is a link to the actual release. http://brookfield.patch.com/announcements/kids-kingdom-update
Retired June 22, 2011 at 01:08 PM
To Mr. Boyd, I wonder why the Patch did not put this release on the Home page so readers can easily see it. After all, this is a important town issue. Thank you.
Aaron Boyd (Editor) June 22, 2011 at 02:18 PM
We will have a full story up shortly.
Aaron Boyd (Editor) June 22, 2011 at 02:23 PM
After receiving the release there were a number of outstanding questions and a full article is in the works. I can assure you we are not bypassing this story.
Michael Gianfranceschi June 22, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Perfect!! the selectman appropriates money for a project before finding out how much it will cost. that's just terrific. now we will have to spend more money or the playground will be scaled down from the original plan... and you all wonder why people get frustrated with our "leadership"
John Hawley June 22, 2011 at 09:26 PM
Aaron, learn a lesson. The hawks are on the line waiting to pounce. This time they are right. Patch should have posted the press release (fully knowing that the Newstimes would do so immediately) and THEN do your analysis in an in-depth article.
Concerned Brookfield Citizen June 22, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Is the speed of The Patch's reporting the most important thing in your life? I know it is hot outside but chill out. Aaron will do a better job than the NewsTimes could ever do. Heck, they cannot even quote a press release correctly.
John Hawley June 22, 2011 at 10:19 PM
CBC, you should probably read the other posts...so much misinformation, wild conjecture, etc. Patch would have been better served by posting the release and then the article. Certainly not even on the radar screen as important to me personally but taming the shrews is important in Brookfield and that's why I made the recommendation. If they don't listen, they can deal with the shrews.
Michelle June 22, 2011 at 11:25 PM
Wow...I'm trying to wrap my head around what Mr. Davidson is doing. I thought they had money for this project? If I remember correctly Mr. Tinsley had some great suggestions for bringing the costs down etc. I am a firm believer in using the community to help bring this project to fruition. This whole project shouldnt be this difficult. Its a playground not a skyscraper. I am just speechless as to the leadership in town lacks in leading. Unbelievable. Why are people so scared to rely on our fellow community members to help with this playground? What is the problem? Its a playground for goodness sake. Lots of business' and corporations succeed with the use of volunteers. For instance: The Red Cross, Soup Kitchens, Animal Welfare Shelters, Hospice. I think we can get the town of Brookfield together to build a playground. Do you think these major business' fret about how they are going to get volunteers to help. Perhaps. Yet, somehow they do and it all works out. Even in our busy lives, people still make time to volunteer. This a project, not a life sentence of peoples time. Encourage your friends and families to consider coming together for the children of Brookfield. By volunteering the costs can be cut tremendously and we can all have a sense of pride. Its a great opportunity to share a small piece of hummanity for our children.
John Hawley June 22, 2011 at 11:37 PM
My guess is liability! Back when the KK was built originally, it was a really nice Community effort. Now, if someones pricks themself with a nail, they could sue the Town. Why they aren't discussing this more up front is amazing to me. Davidson should be addressing these issues!
Steven DeVaux June 22, 2011 at 11:43 PM
Sounds like they are having a tough time spinning this article with Davidson's 2/21/11 Letter to the Editor stating they had a vendor and the vendor did over 500 installations. You can't believe Davidson and now there's a claim of "misquote" (you know, the same people that mis-speak) and it's all VERBAL. Too bad putting it in writing clears that up all the time.
Michelle June 22, 2011 at 11:54 PM
Mr. Hawley, I do believe you are onto something. It is rather interesting that Mr. Davidson isn't jumping at the fact that 300 people are interested in giving their time to help. Most corporations would be so thankful for any contributions. Couldn't they have all the volunteers sign a waiver? It can state that the town is not responsible during the construction of the playground. I certainly think its worth checking in to.
Steven DeVaux June 23, 2011 at 12:28 AM
Given this comment why hasn't the current playground been shut down already before a child is injured? Are the town's paid politicians playing politics with Brookfield's children? This comment is on Patch for those looking for it and is quoted in it's entirety. Carol Dores 11:01am on Monday, February 21, 2011 Thank you for the perspective, Bill. Given the hours that people responsible for this have put in, and given our current playground is beyond its useful and safe life, let's get this done. The children of Brookfield deserve it!
Steven DeVaux June 23, 2011 at 12:59 AM
Mzy, The bank robbery story was up in under 4 hours (2 hours and 36 minutes to be precise). It appears this "article" is going to take upwards of 4 days at least. I buy into the New Times articles more since they don't have any interests to protect in the community (advertisers, etc.). Such is the way of the world these days. Shop Danbury, not Brookfield if you want to have your money (in effect your vote) count.
Play Nice in The Sand Box June 23, 2011 at 01:02 AM
"Can't we all just get along"... Wow, only in Brookfield does building a playground turn into puffed-out chests-thumping keyboard war complete with innuendo and conspiracy theories. I just hope the playground area has a "time-out" area for these ego-loving blog posters. We could have our children just observe you guys and learn how NOT to act.
Howard Lasser June 23, 2011 at 01:48 AM
Once again, there was no VERBAL inconsistancy. The News times just got it wrong. Surprise? Here again is the link to the actual press release. http://brookfield.patch.com/announcements/kids-kingdom-update
Concerned Brookfield Citizen June 23, 2011 at 09:37 AM
Michelle B, your ideas are great. I have just one question. Will we see a story in The Patch tomorrow announcing that you are leading the volunteer effort? You seem to think that the job is a simple one. So, I nominate you to take the bull by the horns and lead the effort.
Rob Gianazza June 23, 2011 at 12:32 PM
Perhaps it has something to do with FACT checking and getting the story correct instead of fast? I have seen many negative comments and inaccurate statements made. It is refreshing to be presented with a well researched and accurate account of what transpired. Perhaps many of us could learn something from Mr. Boyd's approach?
Michelle June 23, 2011 at 02:35 PM
Dear Concerned Brookfield Citizen...I am unable to spear head this project. However, I have offered to volunteer in several capacities in the inpletation of this project as well as my husband. I have also offered to give suggestions at any time. When this playground is finally getting done--I will be there giving my time and labor for my children and my friends children. Just like I was there as a kid, watching my father and my future father in law work hard to build Kids Kingdom. I am available to consult and give suggestions at any time. It would be my pleasure in doing so.
Concerned Brookfield Citizen June 23, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Michelle, if you cannot spearhead organizing a volunteer effort, do you know who can? Further, we have been talking about this project for almost 2 years. During that time, there have been numerous cries for somebody to lead a volunteer effort and NOBODY ever steps forward. Volunteerism is great. I do it. But I am getting sick and tired of people wondering why "somebody" doesn't organize a volunteer effort. You don't have time. I don't have time. Don't ya think that if anybody was going to do it, they would have stepped forward already?
John Hawley June 23, 2011 at 05:24 PM
Hey, CBC;, you seem to be sick and tired of peple wondering why "somebody" doesn't organize it, why don't you? You have the experience and apparent interest.....go for it.
BobCat June 23, 2011 at 05:40 PM
This thread has degenerated into a waste of time.

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