Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 27, 2020

The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) has consistently made handicapped accessibility a major city goal. In light of recent controversy over 8 Flags Playscapes proposal to add handicapped accessible playground elements to what had been initially proposed as a passive park on Simmons Road, some commissioners asked about the accessibility of other city parks.

On January 11, Commissioner Chip Ross took up an offer from 8 Flags Playscapes to visit city parks in a wheelchair to see for himself how easy (or not) it is for those with disabilities to access and enjoy city parks. He reported on his experience to his fellow commissioners and the public at the FBCC’s January 21, 2020 Regular Meeting. Ross said that he learned that whereas some of the parks are accessible to children in wheelchairs, they are not so accessible to adults in wheelchairs.

According to legal definitions, there are varying degrees of accessibility required under various circumstances. Ross said that Canada has come up with four criteria for accessible playgrounds:
1.  Accessibility for children at a wide range of developmental stages.
2.  Appeal to the 5 senses of children.
3.  Create safe spaces where children can explore
4.  Support parents with disabilities so that they can supervise and participate in activities with their children.

Ross asked for support from other commissioners in asking the City Manager to determine through city staff and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee where city parks fall short, determine an action plan for correcting deficiencies, and identifying a funding source for correcting the problems in all city parks over the next 5 years.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger said he thought this was an appropriate request and that needs should be added to the Five Year Capital Improvement Plan.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Nan Voit made a brief presentation to include cost estimates to make existing playgrounds more inclusive. She estimated that it will cost about $245,000 to make required adjustments to three parks: Main Beach, Atlantic Avenue, and MLK. She said that in the current year plans are underway to replace and expand the Central Park playground. With the addition of making the playground inclusive by Ross’ recommendations, the cost of that park will be $500,000.

Commissioner Mike Lednovich, who accompanied Ross in his wheelchair journey through Main Beach Park, echoed concerns about surface materials and raised the need to have the right types of playground equipment available.

Commissioner Phil Chapman also supported Ross’ request, adding that he would suggest adding a review of beach accesses to the study. He expressed a desire to expand the study to include accessibility throughout the city. He mentioned that for a person in a wheelchair, it is difficult to cross the railroad tracks downtown or even use the bricked crosswalks on Centre Street.

The topic will be further discussed during the FBCC visioning workshop on January 28.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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