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Houlton and RSU 29 playgrounds reopen to the public after closing as precaution

HOULTON, Maine — Children are now able to play on school and town-owned playground equipment.

One week after the Houlton Town Council was split on whether to reopen municipal playgrounds, the Just for Kids playground, skateboard park, tennis and basketball courts and Riverfront Park were all re-opened for public use.

RSU 29 also opted to reopen their playgrounds after they were closed to the public on May 26.

“The parks and recreation advisory board met last evening [June 2] via Zoom and recommended to Marie [Carmichael, parks and recreation director] opening them following CDC recommendations for use,” Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson said via email Wednesday evening. “Marie presented a plan to the advisory board and they made the decision to open the recreational facilities.”

RSU 29 Superintendent Ellen Halliday said the decision was made to reopen the school playgrounds after consultation with the district’s insurance company and in tandem with the town. Signs are also placed on the school’s property advising people that use of the equipment is at their own risk.

Multiple signs have been placed around each playground and court advising people that they are using the equipment at their own risk.

“Marie has been working on the town’s plan for some time,” Anderson said. “Marie is very committed and passionate for the youth in the Houlton community. She attended many, many Zoom meetings with her peers in other communities, brainstorming with them and developed the plan. She checked with school and the Adopt A Block folks about their plans and precautions so we were all moving forward together. There was no discussion outside of the Advisory Board’s focus on the reopening plan and program offerings.”

The town manager added she was pleased to have offerings for the young members of the community.

The town will not be sanitizing the equipment, nor will it provide any sanitizing stations at the facilities. Anderson said in an email to councilors, “It will be left to individuals to determine their own comfort and level of participation at the facilities.”

While the ballfields are now open, no organized baseball or softball games are allowed until Aug. 1.

Councilor Sue Tortello, who was one of the town council members who expressed reservations about opening the municipal playgrounds, said Thursday that she was pleased with the decision.

“I concur with the decision that was made and think all town staff who were involved in this issue handled it in a very professional and thoughtful manner,” Tortello said. “Kudos especially to Marie [Carmichael] for her role in this. I know this was not an easy nor comfortable position to be in.”

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