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Three Ways P3s Can Benefit Your Community

Originally published on the National League of Cities (NLC) CitiesSpeak blog.

The Trump administration has proposed expanding the U.S. Department of Transportation Private Activity Bond program, encouraging the development of public-private partnerships (P3s) in transportation projects. While P3s do not work for all communities or all types of projects, they can provide some key benefits to help meet local infrastructure needs. And with the Trump Administration’s emphasis on them, it may be worth looking into whether a P3 would suit your community’s latest project.

At their best, P3s are a good way to bring in new technology and expertise that local government might not otherwise be able to exploit. In many cases, private corporations take on the greater part of the risk and management responsibility, and their profit is often tied to their performance, while local governments retain ownership of the assets.

Though allowing private entities to finance, construct and manage public assets is not something to be entered into lightly, below we’ve outlined some of the benefits P3s can yield.

P3s Can Stretch Your Budget

When considering bids, local governments must look at the tradeoffs between the cost and quality details of the project being proposed. Some may interpret as the lowest bid, only to find out later it wasn’t the best. P3s focus on long-term operation and maintenance costs, which means they consider those – and how to keep them low while avoiding deferred maintenance – when awarding a bid. In addition, set performance and maintenance standards into the P3 contract, the projects are orchestrated to meet the standards the community expects over time.

P3s are designed so the cost of the project is paid over the lifetime of the asset and costs are known up front. Private corporations earn a return on their investment either by payments from ratepayers, such as in a water district, or they receive a portion of the higher taxes generated by improved infrastructure.

P3s Can Get Projects Done More Quickly

When it comes to red tape, private corporations may have more flexibility than governmental bodies. P3s can bring quick decision-making and best practices honed in the business world to a project. Studies have shown that P3s increase the likelihood that projects come in on-budget and on-schedule over those completed solely by public entities.

Los Angeles County’s Metro system is looking toward P3s to dramatically accelerate the dozens of projects – some by more than a decade.

Deficient bridges are a problem across the country. Pennsylvania used a P3 and economics of scale to repair more than 550 small bridges across the state in one project – with the repair completed over a decade earlier than they would have, had the state done them one-by-one. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation saved 30 percent on the cost to build them and the private partner will maintain the bridges for 25 years.

P3s Can Improve Innovation

Popular in Canada and Europe, P3s have also changed the landscape in China.  An early win for P3s, forty years ago, the Central Park Conservancy saved New York City’s Central Park. The conservancy started small, by saving the park’s unique structures, but has seen such success that it has taken over the park management altogether. In 2014, Chicago used a P3 to invest its Riverwalk, a downtown area that was once unused and neglected by pedestrians; today, this area has seen major revitalization and economic development.

Other levels of governments have also explored the use of P3s. In addition to the state and county examples mentioned above, the U.S. Department of Energy and the American nuclear industry have partnered as “innovation incubators,” using a blend of resources across laboratories, academic facilities and private sector companies to improve reactor and fuel technology.


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A Message from John Kitzie, CEO

As HomeServe’s new CEO, I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself. I joined HomeServe in October 2012 as Chief Operating Officer overseeing our customer experience and field technicians. Throughout my years in this role, I have been privileged to work with a group of people who truly care about delivering the very best customer service throughout all aspects of that customer’s interaction with us. I’m very excited to take on the leadership of this company and to continue all the great progress that has been made over the past 15 years.

HomeServe has grown considerably since its inception and since I joined in 2012, we now service 3.6 million customers, with 5.6 million policies, including 1.6 million water line and 940,000 sewer line service contracts. We are proud of our association with the NLC and have been pleased to deepen the relationship through alignment with NLC events, initiatives and communications.  We are reaching more and more cities every month about the benefits of the program for their residents. We take an educational approach to our communications, both with cities and their residents because, in many cases, there is a lack of awareness about service line responsibility which leaves homeowners vulnerable to potentially large unexpected repairs, and city officials blindsided by unhappy residents who feel the city didn’t inform them. In this issue, the use of educational communications is explored as a way to inform residents about water-related issues such as lead service lines and water conservation.

The NLC Service Line Warranty program also helps many cities generate incremental revenue to fund important initiatives. The story about the City of Tucson in this issue is one great example of this.

We currently partner with nearly 500 municipalities in the U.S. and Canada to offer the NLC Service Line Warranty Program and look forward to growing that number significantly in the coming years. I welcome the opportunity to get to know you and learn more about the challenges you face in your cities. As I embark on my new position, I am energized to further the outstanding leadership of my predecessor, Tom Rusin, and to help proliferate our important programs for North American homeowners. Tom has taken on a new global role as Global CEO, HomeServe Membership and will continue to work closely with us in the North American business.


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AMERICA’S WATER INFRASTRUCTURE CRISIS: THE SIX PILLAR SOLUTION

Pillar #1 – Education

Earlier this year, we introduced the idea of Six Pillars that must be addressed to reverse the dire state of America’s water infrastructure. The solution lies in leadership and a plan that addresses these many challenges comprehensively.

Pillar #1 is Education. Before this crisis can be solved, its dimensions and consequences must be known. Continuous education of and communication to customers, policy makers, the media and other stakeholders is the essential element needed to build the water systems we need.

There are many water topics that need to be communicated to stakeholders. Lead is a big issue that has received tremendous media attention in the last few years, for good reason. According to the EPA, approximately 10 million US homes and buildings utilize service lines containing lead. Cities and utilities approach the situation in a variety of ways, but private-side water service lines and interior plumbing fixtures are a significant part of the problem. Those are the homeowner’s responsibility, so extensive consumer education is warranted. According to an AWWA publication, “in the near future, utilities may be encouraged and even required to increase their communications efforts to better protect their customers from lead exposure at the tap.”

At AWWA’s Drinking Water Week in 2016, more than 100 water utility leaders from throughout North America shared strategies for communicating about lead service lines.

The Cincinnati Water Works has expanded its outreach on lead, including the addition of a new lead website, a lead hotline, social media outreach, direct letters to more than 20,000 customers, a speaker’s bureau and the distribution of pitcher filters to homes thought to be at higher risk.

Boston Water has an online database that allows homeowners to search by address to determine if their property has a lead service line. Boston Water also offers a credit of up to $2,000 ad interest-free loans to assist homeowners interested in remove the portion of lead pipe on private property.

Louisville Water Company has a long history with lead, having installed over 74,000 lead service lines until 1937. They began replacing lead service lines in the early 1970s. After the Flint, Michigan debacle, Louisville Water assessed their communications plan and developed a “think 3” approach of three overall water quality/public health messages and three points on managing potential risks with lead. In addition to customers, stakeholder targets included the local public health department, elected leaders and schools and daycares.

They developed a wealth of assets to communicate, including an updated website, brochures and fact sheets, how-to postcards on flushing pipes and taking water samples, and animations and videos. This comprehensive communications plan resulted in increased customer trust in the water company to produce safe, high quality drinking water, a renewed partnership with the local health department, and an enhanced understanding of the consumer’s role in water quality.

Water conservation is another topic requiring extensive educational outreach. WaterSense is a voluntary partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It serves as a resource for helping residential and commercial users save water and offers a wealth of information about outdoor irrigation, conservation in the home, technical product specifications and certification programs. Municipalities and utilities can utilize this resource in their communications efforts. WaterSense also offers product labeling that assists consumers in selecting water-efficient products.

An important component of infrastructure education and communication for municipalities and utilities is related to private side service lines. When a water or sewer line breaks, the homeowner is generally responsible for the portion of the line from the house to the water meter, called the “private-side” and the City or utility is responsible for the portion of the line from the water meter to the water main, called the “public-side.”  When private-side service lines break, many homeowners call the city or water utility first, and then are surprised to learn that the City can’t help solve this expensive problem.

For example, the City of Newark is one of America’s oldest cities.  In recent years it has experienced a steady increase in water infrastructure challenges and problems.  City Council members were being contacted often by residents with water line issues and they were growing increasingly concerned about citizens who may experience financial hardships from water line repairs.  Approximately two years ago, Newark decided to offer the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program to residents.

Educational marketing about homeowners’ responsibility for service lines is a key component of the program.  Residents receive information about the program via direct mail, bill inserts and through digital media.  Program materials are available in different languages which is helpful to cities with ethnically diverse populations. Newark homeowners have been enthusiastic about the program, and the council has received positive feedback from citizens who appreciate the City providing information.

Education and communication is certainly key to making infrastructure improvements with regard to lead, water conservation, and private-side issues that are addressed quickly and competently before they lead to extensive water loss and cause further damage to private and public infrastructure. However, there are many additional factors to consider, which will be featured in upcoming blogs.

Next up, Pillar #2 – Data.


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Smart Meters Can Help Stop the Loss of Water… and Dollars

A state audit found that Pittsburgh is losing half of the clean water it processes; Olean, N.Y., loses two of every five gallons; Ontario, Canada, is losing $700 million a year in water leaks – the list goes on and on. America alone loses an estimated 2.1 trillion gallons of water each year.

The causes for leaking lines are legion, including aging infrastructure, mechanical damage and lack of corrosion protection. In addition to the environmental and financial impact of leaking water lines, leaks of more than 20 percent of a utility’s water volume also will reduce the amount of pressure in the lines – an issue when the local fire department taps into a fire hydrant.

Finding a water leak can be difficult – most methods include sonic leak-detection equipment, which helps service crews by identifying the sound of water escaping a water line. Larger leaks that bubble up to the surface may lose less water in the long run, because they are quickly identified and repaired, but small, subtle leaks can drain water – and money – from a utility for months and even years.

An important tool in leak detection and repair are detailed records of water production, sales, unmetered use and metered use. This, paired with information such as historical leak statistics, information on line age and composition and intelligence about variable factors such as heavy usage and exposure to traffic vibration, can help predict or find leaks.

Leak detection and repair can be paired with a range of initiatives, including education programs; encouraging the conservation of water for landscaping, filling water features and washing vehicles and paved surfaces, whether by education or ordinance; conservation rebate programs; and water recycling.

One way to help residents save water is by providing smart meters. Smart meters have been around for more than a decade – and are particularly popular in the electricity sector — but they’ve seen a surge in popularity in the past five years.

Smart meters are able to record water usage and report it wirelessly, sometimes over a cellular network, at regular intervals. Real-time metering not only encourages conservation, but it can help residents detect leaks and consumption patterns. Some smart meter software can even analyze the data provided by meters operating throughout a utility’s territory, providing valuable data or alerting a customer to a spike in water usage.

Although they are more accurate over time than analog meters, which lose their effectiveness and underreport usage as they age, smart meters also are much more expensive, costing as much as seven times as much as an analog meter. Water meters have their detractors – some because the cost, others have doubts about the accuracy and yet others are concerned about “catch up” readings, or readings showing the gap between the estimated and the actual reading.

Each community will have a different approach, using different tools, to address water leaks. Among those tools available, consider the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, which offers water line warranties to homeowners, so they will be in a position to fix any leaks in their service lines. It is another tool in your arsenal to combat an aging delivery system leaking water and dollars. In addition, qualifying municipalities can receive royalties they can apply toward infrastructure projects.

Contact us to learn more about how the NLC Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community.


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Three Issues Facing Veterans in Your Community

Veterans bring a lot to the table, and many of the skills they learned in the armed forces can benefit your community once they’ve been discharged. Many times, a veteran just needs a helping hand, like Edward Andruskieicz, of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Edward, an 87-year-old World War II veteran, saw several feet of flood waters invade his home during the record-setting January storms. The water ruined his boiler at the same time record low temperatures struck the area. However, a national company – Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company – stepped in and replaced his boiler at no cost.

While veterans bring unique skills, they also have unique hurdles, including higher than national average rates of unemployment, homelessness and suicide, but with the help of their communities, they can overcome them. Like Edward, many need a helping hand at the right time – especially offered by the people, organizations and businesses in their communities.

Veteran Unemployment

Veteran unemployment is twice the national average. Veterans’ biggest obstacles in obtaining employment are translating their military background into work experience easily understandable by civilians, meeting licensing requirements and finding employment while disabled.

The older a veteran is and the longer he or she has been separated from military service, the better their prospects are for employment. Enlisting immediately following high school means much of a recently separated veteran’s networking opportunities and skills training have taken place in the military.

While 80 percent of military jobs have a civilian counterpart, licensing requirements can differ. They may require a veteran to go through civilian education in a field they have already mastered. In addition, the educational and testing requirements may vary from state to state. The Veterans Administration will pay for testing, but the cost of education – even if it goes over the same ground veterans covered in their military training – falls on the veteran.

Disability rates are higher among veterans; about 29 percent of recent veterans have some sort of service-related disability. Most common are missing limbs, burns, spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss and traumatic brain injuries. Veterans with service-connected disabilities had an employment-population ratio of 43.3 percent, lower than the ratio for those veterans without a disability at 49 percent.

The VA provides a Military Skills Translator, which translates military jobs into resume-ready information – and imports it to the organization’s Resume Builder. Additionally, there are special unemployment benefits for ex-service members. Those who were discharged honorably from active duty can apply in their state of residence.

In partnership with the Department of Labor, the VA offers Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services, which helps with training for new job skills, starting a business or receiving educational counseling. The Veterans Opportunity to Work program can extend those vocational rehabilitation benefits for those who have completed the initial program and qualify.

RallyPoint provides post-military professional networking opportunities for veterans, and Jobless Warrior provides employment and job search resources, including career coaches and information on employers looking to hire veterans.

Those veterans with service-connected disabilities have preference when applying for certain federal jobs or winning federal government contacts. Disabled veterans also are eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation. Those who hire service-disabled veterans qualify for tax incentives through the Special Employer Incentive program. The VOW program also can assist veterans in receiving disability accommodations.

Veteran Homelessness

One in ten of those who are homeless are veterans, 50 percent are disabled and three-quarters of homeless veterans have mental health issues. Another 1.4 million veterans are at-risk for homelessness, because of poverty, lack of support networks and overcrowded housing. Half a million veterans pay more than half of their income in rent.

Many veterans who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness have service-connected disabilities, especially PSTD, or substance abuse issues. Unemployment because of the inability to transition military training to civilian work also factors in.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans stresses the need for housing, nutrition, physical and mental healthcare and job services for homeless and at-risk veterans. The coalition reports that community-based programs with veterans serving veterans saw the greatest success rate.

The Interagency Council on Homelessness has established a benchmark guide for communities looking to actively address veteran homelessness. The council also has published a strategy guide, recommending public commitment to eradicating veteran homelessness; coordination between programs and with private landlords to match homeless vets with housing; identifying available resources on the federal, state and local levels; and coordinating with job assistance programs to provide training and services.

In April, the Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service announced $12 million available in grant funding to provide veterans with job training to transition them from homelessness to sustainable housing.

The VA provides housing assistance in conjunction with Housing and Urban Development; the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program, which includes exams, treatment and referrals; Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans program, which offers mental health and rehabilitation services; and job services targeted specifically toward homeless veterans.

Veterans Matter is a nonprofit organization that provides housing to homeless veterans and was founded by a formerly homeless man. Veterans Matter works directly with organizations to raise awareness and funding.

Veteran Suicide

Veterans represent one in five of all those who die of suicide in America. Twenty veterans die of suicide daily. Many of those either lack access to or don’t utilize available VA services.

Veterans who suffer from isolation, with little to no meaningful social connections, are particularly prone to suicide, especially during transitional periods – such as separation from the military, according to a University of Southern California study. Unemployment and homelessness — periods when veterans may see themselves as burdens to their communities – are significant stressors, the study found. The risk of suicide is greatest during the first three years after separation.

This isolation or loneliness can be especially acute in veterans who suffer from PSTD or were prisoners of war, even if they have an adequate support system. In such cases, veterans may feel that it is impossible for others to understand the trauma they’ve endured, even while yearning for that understanding, causing a feeling of disconnection.

Prevention measures recommended in a Veterans Health Administration report include outreach; focusing on gun and medication safety; focusing on those with a higher risk, including young men aged 18 to 25, women and those who had prior mental health conditions and made prior suicide attempts; and offering skill building to prevent stressors such as unemployment and homelessness.

A Center for Disease Control report on suicide prevention includes recommendations such as strengthening financial security, stabilizing housing, increasing access to mental health care, improving safe storage practices for firearms and medicines, promoting community engagement, strengthening communication and problem-solving skills, encouraging emotional intelligence and identifying and intervening with those most at-risk.

The VA has a dedicated crisis line – call 1(800) 273-8255 or text 838255 – including resources for veterans and concerned loved ones, information on suicide warning signs and crisis resources.

The VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention has developed “Signs, Ask, Validate, Encourage and Expedite” training to help those who encounter veterans to recognize suicide red flags and act. The training is available in partnership with the nonprofit PsychArmor Institute and covers a variety of subjects from military culture and myths to supporting veterans and self-care.

The VA Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide addresses veteran suicide in a multi-pronged approach: visibility and awareness; preventive services; treatment and support; and research. At the heart of it – at the heart of all efforts to address major issues impacting veterans – is a community-based approach that puts those professionals and organizations, the “boots on the ground,” at the front lines in providing care and services.

Through awareness, pro-active and preventive measures and support, your community can best serve its veterans, reaping the benefits of all they have to offer in return and thanking them for their service. Learn more about how NLC member cities and private industry are working together to tackle these issues.

 

Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, administers the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program, offering education on homeowners’ service line maintenance responsibilities and offering warranty repairs from local, licensed and vetted contractors.


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Not All Home Warranties Are Created Equal

Linda J. of Baton Rouge thought she was covered in the case of an emergency home repair – after all, she had a plumbing policy from a national home warranty company.

So when Linda started having drainage issues, she called on K&S Plumbing.

The plumber removed roots from her sewer line, but advised her that the problem was larger than she had anticipated – her entire sewer line had been overtaken by tree roots. In addition, the huge water oak in front of her home – the roots of which were chewing up the pipe – couldn’t be cut down.

Tree roots typically seek out the warmth generated by sewage lines, particularly in colder months. To compound Linda’s problem, the sewer line was an old clay tile. K&S Plumbing recommended the entire line be replaced with root-resistant PVC pipes and be re-routed to avoid the tree roots as much as possible. The job would cost approximately $10,000, she was told. However, Linda was confident that she was covered under her home warranty policy.

Only she wasn’t.

“I called them, and anything outside the house wasn’t covered,” Linda said.

Not only would Linda be responsible for the entire $10,000 repair cost, but her sewer line, riddled with holes from the encroaching roots, was leaking raw sewage into her front yard. Desperate to have the repair done, Linda applied for financing, but was denied. Despite her job as a custodian at a local school, Linda’s income was limited.

Linda had done everything right, but she was still faced with a costly repair she couldn’t afford. She didn’t know where to turn.

But Danny, K&S Plumbing owner, hadn’t forgotten her. A network contractor for the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, Danny knew they had a program that could help Linda. So Danny contacted them and suggested Linda’s repair be covered under their Cares program, which offers no-cost, emergency repairs to qualifying residents who don’t have NLC Service Line Warranty Program plans.

They came through for Linda, and K&S Plumbing recently installed a brand-new sewage line at no cost to Linda.

“I’m getting rid of [her prior warranty company],” Linda said. She inquired that day about obtaining a NLC Service Line Warranty Program policy.

Contact us to learn more about how the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community.


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In Honor of NLC Small Cities Month, We Are Highlighting Hendersonville, N.C. – a Small Community With Growing Population Turning to Tech to Manage Water

For Small Cities Month, the National League of Cities is exploring innovative projects and developments that bring will bring small cities to the next level and improve life for residents and business owners.

Hendersonville, N.C., is a small city, but its Water and Sewer Department serves a growing population as Henderson County sees an influx of residents – who also will receive their water from Hendersonville.

“I think this is the best water you can get,” Jeremy Poss, Technology and Metering Manager, said. “The water source is protected by tens of thousands of acres of national forest.”

Water from that unspoiled forest goes to a water treatment plant outside of Hendersonville, where it then is distributed to residents throughout the county. Henderson County is growing by leaps and bounds, and the water department is using the latest technology and implementing a water system master plan to meet milestones in increasing capacity.

Although Hendersonville itself is a small town of 17,000 residents, tens of thousands more live in Henderson County and that number is expected to increase. To provide clean, safe water, the Hendersonville water department employs a number of new technologies that help staff determine what areas need an increase in capacity and what areas are in need of repair.

When Hendersonville water employees make a repair in the system, they enter it into their work routing system and include that information on a “heat map” to see which areas have the most breaks.

“The more breaks you have, the more likely it is that the line will fail,” Poss said, noting the practice allows them to prioritize which areas to replace or upgrade lines and pumping stations.

Recently, the department began using a modeling program that takes into account a host of variables, including line size and population clusters, to determine where flow needs to be improved or increased. Poss explained that the model could account for developments not yet built so the water department could be proactive in upgrading the lines and preventing a low-flow problem before it could develop.

The water department also shares that information with the local fire department, so they can determine whether their hydrants have adequate flow. Not only does this make the community safer, but it also lowers insurance rates for homeowners.

Hendersonville also implemented Advanced Metering Infrastructure, allowing customers to see their usage online and even establish alert thresholds for usage and billing – something that improves customer satisfaction for the water department.

“[The customers] really like that,” Poss said.

Customers can register on AquaHawk and view their usage when it’s convenient for them, and some even use it to keep an eye on their homes when they’re out of town.

“We’ll get a call, ‘I think I left the outside bib faucet on,’” Poss said. “That happens more than you would think.”

That isn’t even the extent of the technology the Hendersonville water department employs – the department also uses a Geographic Information System to help map their system.

Hendersonville’s water department was established in the 1920s, and it wasn’t an easy task – locomotives and mule trains were needed to haul the pipe needed to carry water from the national forest to the community.

“It’s pretty wild, to see the pictures of the horse-drawn wagons that hauled the pipes,” Poss said.

Although the community’s water system has grown and modernized since then, that old system has still left its mark on Hendersonville.

“We still come across the wooden pipes, excavating downtown,” Poss said, noting that while the pipes remain in the ground, they are no longer part of the system.

Hendersonville has come a long way – from wooden pipes to high-tech models – and has partnered with the National League of Cities Service Line Warranties Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, to better educate their residents about their responsibility to maintain and repair their water and sewer service lines.

“A lot of people are surprised to learn that [service lines] are their responsibility,” Poss said. “They think we can come and locate and repair their leak, but we have no way to know where the lines even are. The line from the meter into the house is [the homeowner’s] responsibility.”

While the water department isn’t responsible for repairing leaking lines on private property, employees will attempt to help determine where a leak is, if possible. Only licensed plumbers are permitted to open the department’s meter boxes. The department encourages homeowners to install their own shutoff valve on their side of the meter and offers a discount for doing so.

Poss noted that many more homeowners are aware of their responsibilities since the SLWP began educational campaigns in the community. He also encourages residents to sign up for the service line warranties through SLWP.

“When you need it, it’s a good thing to have – I’ve heard a lot of stories,” he said, adding that he has looked into several other vendors offering similar products, but SLWP offers the best value for the price.

In addition to educating homeowners about their service line responsibilities, the Service Line Warranty Program offers warranties for service lines. The work is performed by licensed, local plumbers who will call the customer within one hour of filing a claim. For information about the program, contact us.


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A Community Effort Brings an All-Abilities Playground to Partner City Orem, Utah

The All Together Playground in Orem, Utah, is the first of its kind in Utah County and on the crest of a movement to make play accessible to all children and provide children with disabilities a way to play alongside their peers, and the playground’s story began when the city sought public input about making recreational improvements.

“We reached out through social media to find out what the needs and wants were in the community,” Steve Downs, Orem deputy city manager, said.

Two mothers, Katrina Bleyl and Mindy Gleason, whose daughters used wheelchairs, suggested an all-abilities playground.

“They didn’t have a local place to play,” Downs said. “They had to go to Salt Lake City to play [at an all-abilities playground].”

Bleyl and Gleason hoped for a wheelchair accessible swing set, but the city committed to an entire playground, at an estimated cost of $1.2 million. The city pledged $600,000, and the community rallied to raise the funds needed for the playground and local businesses donated materials and labor.

“Just knowing that it wouldn’t just affect (my daughter), but knowing that it would affect other kids in the area, and not just Orem,” Bleyl told the Daily Universe. “It just builds awareness and kindness, and all sorts of good stuff.”

As city officials began to work with the community to plan the park, they reached out to local elementary school pupils, asking them what they wanted in a park, while considering the needs of children of all abilities and Orem’s unique history.

Children asked for – and received – a pirate ship, space ship and castle, and Orem’s past is represented with a clock tower, train and mammoth-themed slide. Utah’s mountain peaks are invoked by the playground’s design, particularly nearby Mount Timpanogos. James C. Christensen, an award-winning artist, author and Orem resident, created a one-of-a-kind mural for the playground.

“He actually just passed from cancer – he was going through that, and he spent some of his final days painting for us,” Downs said.

Most importantly, those planning the park listened to families with children impacted with mobility and neurological issues. One of the items included a fence around the playground to keep children on the autism spectrum safe.

“Some of them are runners, and parents were worried they could run into the parking lot or the street,” Downs said. “They wanted some type of protection, a border between the parking lot and the playground.”

Other considerations include switching to a soft rubber matting instead of a mulch that could cause issues for those children with mobility or sensory issues, making the walkways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and including ramps instead of stairs.

“We wanted everything to be without barriers,” Downs said. “There are no stairs; we have ramps the whole way up to the highest point. There isn’t anywhere they can’t go.”

One of the primary pushes was to design a playground that would be attractive to all children while allowing children of all abilities to play side-by-side with their peers.

To encourage cooperative play, games such as the NEOS 360 – an interactive game system that improves auditory and spatial awareness and peripheral vision – were incorporated. The playground also features zip lines with chairs alongside traditional set ups so children of all abilities can race one another.

“One of the big pushes is to allow children with disabilities to socialize with their peers,” Downs said. “This playground allows them to do the same activities beside their friends.”

When the community was called upon for volunteers to build the playground, more than 4,000 showed up – almost a thousand more than city leaders had asked for, and Habitat for Humanity donated the tools used to build the playground. A local Boy Scout, Leo Parcell, made 50 sawhorses for the playground’s construction, and volunteers worked from sunup to sundown for seven straight days.

“All of them took time away from work and family to build this for our children,” Downs said.

The Daily Herald wrote an editorial praising the effort, noting “Many local children suffer from physical disabilities, while many others fall on the autism spectrum. Traditional playgrounds oftentimes are not equipped to provide the same play experience for children who must use wheelchairs or walkers or who deal with certain sensory issues.

“There are a handful of nonprofit organizations that have recognized this, and have created all-ability facilities for the use of their own patients and clients. Now, thankfully, we have a local city stepping forward and recognizing the need for a public space that offers those same benefits.”

Downs was moved by watching Brinley Bleyl play in the park shortly after completion.

“She got behind the wheel [of the pirate ship], she was giving orders and you could see that she knew what she wanted to do,” he said. “She was participating in imaginative role play and she had a story for the ship. She’s always had this imagination, but she couldn’t express it this way before. And we were able to take away that physical barrier.”

“Play is called the work of children. We believe that children of all abilities deserve an opportunity to play,” Orem Mayor Richard Brunst told Utah Valley 360. “That’s what this playground is all about. Families, individuals, college students, city staff, businesses and residents have all volunteered time and money to help build this great and beautiful playground with love. All people need to feel love. I hope that all the love that has been put into this park will be a reminder to the children who play here how much we love and appreciate them.”

Downs noted the city encourages the local school district to utilize the park, especially those classes that include children with mobility issues or who are neurodiverse and he enjoys driving past the park and seeing school buses in the parking lot.

“This playground was founded in the minds of our young children and built by their parents and neighbors,” Downs said. “At the end of the day, the community built this for their kids, their neighbors and their friends’ kids.”

Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe USA company, was one of the playground’s sponsors. Utility Service Partners administers the National League of City’s Service Line Warranty Program, which provides emergency repair warranties and education on service line responsibilities at no cost to cities. Qualifying cities can receive royalties that can go toward similar and other programs and needs. For information on how the Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community, contact us.


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Parks Serve as Beneficial Infrastructure for Many Cities

When you think essential infrastructure, you may not think about parks or playgrounds, but providing residents a place for recreation garners socioeconomic benefits, and parks designed for mixed use also can be used in water management and transportation.

A park will increase adjacent properties’ value by 15 to 20 percent, and businesses cite the presence of a robust park system as one of the top three reasons to relocate to a community. While parks generate revenue with user fees, they also generate indirect revenue through hosting special and sporting events – America’s local parks generate $154 billion in economic activity.

Parks, especially in urban settings, provide psychological restoration, lowering stress and mental fatigue and improving concentration, and surveys have shown that minor crimes, such as vandalism, graffiti and littering, are reduced near greenspaces.

Many cities are reclaiming industrial corridors, such as railways, and turning them into linear parks, including bike and walking paths – and residents are using them for transportation to work, school and shopping. Parks, both existing and new, can be part of a city’s green infrastructure by diverting storm water away from sewer systems and acting as a natural filter.

These aren’t the only exciting developments in park improvements – inclusive playgrounds, designed to be accessible to children with mobility, sensory and neurological issues have been gaining attention and support. An inclusive, or all-abilities, playground can include ramps, wider aisles, soft ground surfaces and accessible swings and merry-go-rounds for children with mobility difficulties. It also can include sensory games or musical equipment and safe, quiet spaces for children on the autism spectrum.

Whether through planning a new space or converting an existing space, envisioning parks as infrastructure addresses a variety of needs facing contemporary communities, including population density, environmentalism, health and accessibility.


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The NLC Service Line Warranty Program Helps a Young Couple with a Major Repair

Adam and Jennifer F. loved the first home they bought together, a historic 100 year old house in a quiet Wichita neighborhood – but they didn’t love the sewer line problems that came with it.

The couple bought the home knowing that the sewer line would need attention, and Adam and a friend rented equipment and spent hours cleaning out the line. The couple believed that would keep the problem from worsening until they were able to implement a more permeant fix.

However, within two years, the couple noticed they once again were experiencing drainage problems.

“I thought, ‘I just fixed that,’” Adam said. “I didn’t think it had been long enough to have another problem.”

But it was – one of the features of the backyard the couple loved was an enormous tree, easily as old as their home, but the sewer line passed beneath it. The tree’s roots sought out the warmth the line emitted, especially during the colder months. In addition, the line was an old clay pipe and offered little resistance to the encroaching roots.

To compound the problem, at some point between the house initially being built and Adam and Jennifer purchasing it, an outbuilding had been erected at the rear of the property, directly over the sewer line. The line would have to be replaced using an auger to dig beneath the outbuilding without damaging the foundation or completely re-routed to avoid the tree and the building.

The cost would be thousands of dollars – an expense the young couple simply could not afford. Fortunately, Adam had assisted a local church, and the pastor put him in contact with Sunflower Services.

Sunflower recommended replacing the clay pipe with sturdier, more resistant PVC and rerouting it to avoid the tree and outbuilding to prevent continuing root encroachment and make the line more accessible if it should ever need repair in the future. The problem was the $7,000 price tag, representing a significant portion of their annual income.

Sunflower Services employees knew just what to do and reached out to contacts at Utility Service Partners to see if the couple could have their job covered through the company’s charitable program. Utility Service Partners, a leading home warranty company providing plumbing and electrical warranties throughout the U.S. and Canada, agreed to cover the cost of the repair.

Utility Service Partners also offers low-cost water and sewer service line warranties through the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program in partnership with municipalities and utilities. The program also has been endorsed by several state leagues, including the Kansas League of Cities.

As for Adam and Jennifer, everything is back to normal.

“It’s draining just fine now,” Adam said.