By DOUG LA ROCQUE
NEW LEBANON – As most municipalities know, there is grant money to be had from the federal and state governments as well as a few private sources. Chasing it down and actually qualifying for a grant is another story. It takes a significant amount of work, such as research and planning, and of course writing the application. All too often, for naught.
For the town of New Lebanon in 2023, everything fell in place, and in a big way. According to Town Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling, she was recently informed by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation (OPRHP) that the town’s application for a $500,000 grant to create a new playground and walking trail at Shatford Park has been approved. Ms. Houghtling says she believes this is the largest grant the town has ever received.
Normally, this is a 50-50 matching grant, but because New Lebanon falls below the poverty level, the town must only match 25 percent, or $125,000. Supervisor Houghtling says because they had received positive feedback on their application, the Town Board already budgeted the $125,000 in the recently approved 2024 budget.
These grants are not a given and there is always a lot of competition. New Lebanon applied for the grant in 2022 but was ultimately denied. Ms. Houghtling says that was because their application lacked some detail, such as how much each portion of the project would cost. The town had not gone out to bid yet, so their cost estimates were just that, estimates. OPRHP wanted to see some hard numbers. In their second application, New Lebanon had those hard numbers ready.
There are two key components to the plan, a walking trail around the perimeter of the park and a new playground. The walking trail or loop, as it is being called, will have sections that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There will be strategically placed benches to allow a rest, in some cases under newly planted shade trees. There will also be accessible connecting pathways to new and existing park amenities.
The town has already put this part of the park project out to bid, with Darcy Construction of New Lebanon awarded the job at a cost of $195,112. Supervisor Houghtling says she has a meeting with the state in the very near future, where she is optimistic of obtaining the go ahead to start construction. Weather dependent, she is hopeful the work can begin before the year ends.
That leaves $429,888 for the new playground, which will be located on the grassy area in front of the Weisbuch Pavilion. The playground will also be mostly ADA compliant with sensory stations included in some areas. Ms. Houghtling says these sensory stations became part of the design following significant public input as to what a new park should look like. She said several parents of children with conditions such as autism explained it is nearly impossible for their child to be comfortable in a typical playground set up. When the Town Board hired the engineering firm of Barton & Loguidice to design the park and complete the grant application, they insisted these sensory stations be included.
The parking situation at Shatford Park is currently a bit constricted, with parking on grassy areas often the norm for special events. Ms. Houghtling is hopeful once the new playground is operational, the current playground can be removed and the space turned into a stone parking area.
New York State is notorious for sitting on grant monies, sometimes for two or three years. Just ask the Town of Grafton which waited three years for the release of the funds earmarked for the purchase of a new ambulance, and the Town of Hoosick which has been waiting a year or more for a State and Municipal facilities (SAM) grant to be released.
New Lebanon Supervisor Houghtling says the town is well aware of the state’s track record and is hopeful this won’t be the case. If it is, she says they have some action plans in place, such as the possibility of floating a short, low interest bond to pay the contractors, which would be satisfied by the town when the grant is received.