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Friday, June 27, 2008

Water playground makes a big splash

By Alexandra Sanders
Special to the Register

Barefoot and soaked, exuberant children leapt through spouting streams of water, stopping only to eat cupcakes and cheeseburgers.
The grand opening late Thursday of a splash pad on Ivy street in the city’s Newhallville section drew dozens of eager youngsters. The water attraction features colorful structures that spray, sprinkle or pour water down on kids while streams of water spray skyward from the ground.
The project began with retired New Haven Police Sgt. Romano Ratti’s idea to have a safe place for children to play. A plaque honoring him for his work was erected on the edge of the splash pad.
"I used to hand out sprinklers to the neighborhood to attach to fire hydrants, and I thought it was dangerous for kids to be in the street," said Ratti.
"Little things can do big things," Mayor John DeStefano said.
The city dipped into the capitol budget to fund the splash pad’s $125,000 cost.
The splash pad is still incomplete. Benches are expected to arrive within the next few weeks, said Robert D. Levine, director of the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees.
The children were too busy playing Thursday to notice the missing seating, but many parents stood with their arms draped over the fence or leaned against a table crowded with burgers and chips.
There will be more opportunities for barbecues and celebrations to come.
"We are trying to add one (splash pad) or so every year," said Levine. "There are a lot of needs, and we try to meet them. We are hoping for a community center next."
The children agreed that the splash pad is a boost for the neighborhood. Despite the cloudy sky, most were clad in bathing suits and dripping from head to toe.
"It’s fun on a hot day. You can come here and cool off," said 11-year-old Destiny Middlebrooks.
Destiny said that the best part of the splash pad was the colorful buckets that spill lots of water.
"I would love to see this place packed with kids," said Ratti. "The goal on my end of it is getting kids off the streets."
Lt. Rebecca Sweeny, who replaced Ratti, has launched several youth programs in an effort to continue Ratti’s work. Sweeny has established reading programs and held popular movie nights to give neighborhood kids something to do.
"With all the violence, it’s hard to bring your kids outside, so this is beautiful," said Dennis Grinds, father of three daughters ages 2, 9, and 13, and a son, 15.
"There really aren’t enough wholesome activities for kids to do," said Debra Hauser, coordinator of the splash pad project.
The park is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the water can be turned on by pushing a button.
"The park is a wonderful outlet for the kids. I just can’t tear my daughter away from here," said Bonita Griffin.
Alexandra Sanders is a New Haven Register intern.

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