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Santa Rosa works to improve accessibility in Howarth Park; carousel to be refurbished

A section of Howarth Park will be closed until February while it undergoes construction, part of the city’s effort to make the area more accessible.

The upper portion of the park, which includes the small train station and well-known carousel, has been taped off to the public during construction. The carousel has also been removed from the park because of the project.

Construction in the park began in November but rain might delay its completion until March, said Jeff Tibbetts, a supervisor for the city’s Recreation & Parks department who oversees Howarth Park’s operations.

Workers are creating a cement pathway that will connect the upper portion of the park to the lower portion, where the gazebo and playground are, Tibbetts said. The pathway will have handrails, and its slope will be within the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Workers will also create a cement path that will lead to a picnic table in the park, making it the second of the four tables in the park compliant with the ADA.

“It’s referred to as the jewel of Santa Rosa,” Tibbetts said of Howarth Park. “It’s a place that is so beloved by our community and so used by our community that it’s certainly one of those areas that we want to make as accessible to as many people as we can.”

The project is one of several the city has worked on in Howarth Park, including new walkways on the playground and redoing the sidewalk on Summerfield Road just outside the park. Tibbetts said the initiative is part of the city’s goal to become ADA compliant.

The city sent the carousel, which is nearly 30 years old, to a warehouse in Los Angeles to get refurbished, Tibbetts said. When the carousel is placed back in the park, the platform will be made level with the new cement ground so it will be more accessible to those who may have difficulty walking.

“Somebody who maybe has limited walking ability or uses a cane or that type of thing - instead of them taking a step up to the carousel, they’ll be able to walk onto the carousel without having to take a step up,” Tibbetts said. “There still may be a lot of people that will gain access to the carousel ... that may not have had access before.”

But the carousel is not currently undergoing any repairs to make it ADA compliant, and will not be remodeled for wheelchair use. While the pathway project is part of the city’s approved ADA funding, it doesn’t cover modifying the ride itself, Tibbetts said.

“I would love to see that happen,” Tibbetts said. “I hope that’s something that we can accomplish in the future here as we continue.”

Casey Singer of Santa Rosa loves Howarth Park. Singer, 37, came to the park when she was a kid, and now she brings her two young sons to the park to play. They ride the carousel, train and ponies together when they can, and Singer thought efforts to make these attractions accessible to everyone was important.

Santa Rosa resident Jessica Melgoza, 26, brings her 2-year-old daughter to the park a couple times a month. On Monday afternoon, she and her daughter explored the playground while construction workers continued their progress on the pathways project.

Melgoza applauded the city on scheduling construction to take place during the winter, when the park isn’t as busy compared to the summer months.

While the upper portion of the park is closed off to the public, the carousel and train only operate March through October, so the city planned work to start during the off season, Tibbetts said.

The Recreation & Parks department will plan a grand opening event for the spring, once construction is finished.

“I think it’s great,” Melgoza said of the project. “All kids should be able to have fun.”

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