Clayton’s universal park group will likely seek county dollars

ndunn@newsobserver.comJune 6, 2014 

A public-private partnership that includes the Town of Clayton will likely seek county dollars to help build a playground for children of all abilities.

A committee made up of citizens, business owners and town leaders has worked for months to plan the universal playground, which will be part of East Clayton Community Park on Glen Laurel Road. The town already owns the needed land; funding for construction and equipment is the largest obstacle.

On Monday, committee members presented details about the park to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners. They didn’t ask for money but will likely do so in the future, said Ed Aldridge, a Clayton resident who chairs the playground’s finance committee.

“We want to inform them about what we are doing, and eventually we will ask for support,” Aldridge said.

The Universal Playground Finance Committee says the project will cost about $400,000. The Town of Clayton has earmarked $20,000 in the coming year’s budget for the playground’s design. Caterpillar, whose Product Development Center is near the proposed playground, says it will take care of site preparation, nearly an $80,000 commitment.

After their presentation on Monday, park proponents told County Commissioners they would be back in 90 days, most likely to ask for financial support. In the meantime, Aldridge said the committee will seek donations from corporations, businesses and citizens.

“We are laying the groundwork now,” Aldridge said, adding that the group is developing sponsorship opportunities and seeking out contractors who can make in-kind contributions.

County Commissioners have already pledged $100,000 to a different group building an all-inclusive park in Smithfield. The Partnership to Build a Miracle, which includes the Partnership for Children of Johnston County and the Johnston County Miracle League, has secured more than $800,000 in funding for a playground and special sports field. The group hopes to break ground this fall.

Johnston County Manager Rick Hester said the $100,000 for the Smithfield project would come from the county’s open-space fund. That money flows from residential developers who choose to pay a $400-per- lot fee instead of setting aside open space in their subdivisions.

Commissioners agreed in April to allow county groups to apply for monies from the open-space fund. The amount of money available to communities is based on how much developers in those areas paid in open-space fees. For example, most of the money is reserved for recreation projects in western Johnston County, because most of the money in the fund came from western Johnston developers.

The fund has about $1 million, and commissioners will hold onto about a third of that – $343,000 – for countywide projects. The county has set aide $20,000 for the Clayton community.

Commissioners made the $100,000 commitment to the Partnership to Build a Miracle in January, before establishing a policy on how to disperse money from the open-space fund, Hester said. The new policy, which groups communities by school districts, reserves $20,000 for the Smithfield-Selma community, where the Partnership to Build a Miracle will build its playground and field.

“It says a lot to how important this project is for the whole county, since this is the one they chose to start using that fund for,” said Chris Key, chairman of the Partnership to Build a Miracle’s campaign committee.

This year’s application period for the open-space fund will run July 1 to Aug. 15. Recipients will have to put up a 5-percent match.

The universal playground in Clayton will likely consist of five connected play areas, all compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That means the park will have specialized equipment that provides access to children with special needs and also a rubberized surface accessible for children with wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

Yvonne Futterer, an Archer Lodge native who presented the universal playground idea to commissioners, said proponents hope to open the playground by next summer. “You are critical to that,” she told commissioners, adding that the group is also working with local lawmakers to secure state grant dollars during the General Assembly’s short session.

Staff writer Paula Seligson contributed to this story.

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

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