Sunday, July 1, 2012

Playground to be evaluated

SUNDAY, JULY 1, 2012

Playground to Be Evaluated?

Fairhope, Alabama

According to Councilman Kingrea, plans are being made to have the original designer of the 15-year-old Community Park Playground return to evaluate its current condition, and make recommendations for improvements/repairs.

The MayorKingrea, Councilman Mixon and some parents have expressed concerns about the park's safety for children playing there. Kingrea was appointed last month by the council to work with citizens' groups interested in the matter.

The inspection, by Leathers Associates, LLc.,  will cost about $3,000, according to Kingrea.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

newspaper article of a leathers playground

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AdvertisementHanson: district had prior concerns about ELC playground
by Geoff Rands · March 29, 2012

The West Liberty School District has been looking to replace the wooden playground equipment at the Early Learning Center for some time, said Superintendent Steve Hanson, but the discovery of arsenic in the wood means the timeline will have to be accelerated for the removal of the equipment, which the district has already closed off with orange fencing.

“Given the original life expectancy of the playground — 10 years — and the frequency of the problem of students picking up splinters, we had been working on a plan for removal of the wooden structure, transitioning to a structure that aligns to today’s standards,” said Hanson.

“Armed with this new knowledge, ... we couldn’t justify waiting, and our insurance agent, as well as legal counsel, advised us not to wait. So, we’re just going to go through it faster,” he continued.

“It was going to happen, anyway,” he added

In fact, he said, “when I arrived here a year ago, that was the conversation, ‘Well, one of the first things you have to do is work on this playground project.’ So, it’s been something that they’ve been discussing for a while,” though no firm plans have been made for new equipment.

But the prime reasons for this desire was not related to arsenic, said ELC Principal Missy Johnson, but the physical size of the current students, who are in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, compared to the kindergarten- through second-grade-aged children for whom the structure was designed.

“Our kids just don’t have the upper-body strength, nor the height, to get out to some of the pieces, so the kids are limited with what they can do on the equipment,” she said.

This, however, is not to say that there aren’t other concerns, as well.

Counting just the months of March, April and May of 2010, there were 77 injuries on the equipment, including those related to splinters, said Johnson. Of those injuries, she added, six required surgical removal of splinters.

Also, several items have been found in the area that officials believe were left there by older individuals, said Johnson, including condoms, beer bottles, a pocket knife and even needles that could be used to inject drugs.

“We will probably find something once a week from now until” the beginning of cold weather or the removal of the equipment, Johnson said.

“When something is accessible after-hours and all night long and all weekend long by the public,” some such undesirable items are bound to be found on occasion, said Hanson.

But, added Johnson, “some of that can be eliminated, though, by choosing something that doesn’t have places that are so easy to hide in” when the time comes to choose the replacement for the current equipment.

Hanson ordered the erection of the fence at the recommendation of the district’s insurance agent “so that we can keep people out while we figure out a timeline,” said Hanson.

The orange fence around the equipment went up Friday, March 23, said Johnson, but when she drove by the school on Sunday, she saw a half a dozen kids playing on the equipment, anyway.

“I pulled up, and I said, ‘Um, you might not want to play on there,’” and advised that the children wash their hands after playing, which were the same instructions given to students in between the discovery of the test’s results and the structure’s closure.

Prior to the closure, ELC students “were already doing other things out there, now that the warm weather has come,” Hanson said.

Although there are no plans to add any signage to the area indicating the concern regarding arsenic levels, “usually, when you put up an orange fence like this, it’s kind of a message, too,” Hanson said.

Hanson’s decision to test the equipment came after hearing a report on National Public Radio about the discovery of arsenic in other wooden playground equipment, he said.

The arsenic test kit recently used to test the ELC equipment saw all three test strips used turn a dark brown, indicating an arsenic level of greater than 0.5 milligrams per liter in all three areas of the equipment tested after boring at least one-half inch into the wood.

But Dr. Brian Wels, environmental lab scientist with the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa’s Ankeny office said he found that number confusing, as non-liquid matter would typically be measured in milligrams per kilogram. Under that measurement, he said, acceptable levels of arsenic are between .01 and 97 mg/kg.

Hanson said there are no current plans for any further tests for arsenic in the equipment to verify the initial test’s results.

And, he said, “I don’t think the kids that are in 10th grade at the high school right now have been in danger because they have played on that equipment,” said Hanson, “but ... I think in this country, whenever you have something that you think, ‘That could potentially pose a problem to somebody in the future,’ then you want to eliminate yourself from that liability.”

The equipment was completed in 1995, and although Leathers Corporation designed it, “the community helped actually build” it, said Johnson.

Johnson’s mother recently told her how, during the construction process, “she and my father parked their van out here and watched equipment at night so nothing got stolen.”

“Everybody had their jobs,” she continued. Some people brought food to the volunteers, some people volunteered for the real grunt work, some people volunteered to do day care.”

“It’s more than just a playground,” said Hanson. “It’s a symbol of a community triumph, the community that gets together.”

And while it is possible the equipment could be coated in sealants to keep the arsenic contained in the wood, Hanson said, “that would be so costly to maintain that it would make the price of the playground prohibitively expensive.”

Board of Education members spoke about the possibility of allowing community members to take sections of the equipment for private use at their homes, but, said Hanson, “we’ve been advised by our insurance agent that’s not a wise move, and we should not do that.”

He continued that while the insurance agent believes that signing of a liability waiver by those taking parts home would likely protect the district from legal troubles, lawsuits could still be filed, and the district “could still be having to deal with all kinds of hassles as a result.”

So, despite what will be lost when the equipment is removed, said Johnson, “We’re thankful for the community for the structure and the number of children it has served for 16 years. It’s certainly been a welcome addition to our community for all that time.”

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a city that faced our same problems

Highview Playground To Be Closed

This issue was discussed at the last Nanuet School Board meeting
After a great musical reception Oct. 19, the Nanuet Board of Education dived into more serious matters. Superintendent Mark McNeill and the board members discussed closing down the old wooden playground across the street from Highview Elementary completely for safety and liability reasons
"More recently, it has been determined by the District's insurance company that based upon their inspection the playground must be removed and/or taken out of service as it is past its useful life and poses a hazard," said McNeill. "Over the summer, a new playground was added to the back of Highview. This is the first year children aren't walking across the street to use it."
Back at the Sept. 13 meeting of the Elementary PTA, Highview Elementary Principal Barbara Auriemma told the parents in attendance that the new playground built over the summer was complete and that the students will no longer be using the wooden playground across the street.
"There's one major change this year: recess. From the insurance standpoint, the students will not be crossing the street to the other playground anymore," Auriemma said. "Our hearts beat sometimes a second beat when we see them crossing that street. The insurance company gave us a phasing out period."
At the board meeting last night, Kevin Sawyer, a construction manager from Triton Construction, and Doug Chu, an architect from KSQ Architects P.C., presented to the board an update on the Five-Year Facilities Plan, which details the necessary renovations needed at each school from restrooms to new doors.
This subject segued into the Highview playgrounds both old and new. The new one behind the school was built over the summer and cost $60,000 to install it. This new playground expanded the already existing playground behind the school, which are all open to the public on weekends and over the summer. During the school week, the Family Resource Center uses it for their after-school program
Here's a quick timeline of the old wooden playground:
  • 1990: built by the community's "bare hands." The Board of Education gave permission to raise funds and erect a Leathers Associates playground designed in part by Nanuet School District children.
  • 2003: the district sank $58,790 into the playground "to keep it going." it was renovated and made handicap accessible by community volunteers working under the direction of Leathers Associates.
  • 2006: New York Playground Survey Results listed this playground and about 70 others as unsafe. The survey listed two playground risks: unsafe equipment height and clothing entanglement.
  • 2007: New York insurance company brought up the useful life expectancy of the playground and said it was a serious liability.
The issue the board faces now is that this playground is still open to the public although their own students are not using it anymore for safety reasons.
"It's used by people in the town of Clarkstown and people everywhere. We couldn't get funding this time to save it," said McNeill. "It's a little hypocritical (to let the community use it). It's our legal responsibility to not have it open anymore."
"The playground is not in a state of repair," said Sawyer. "It's reached its useful life expectancy."
Several of the board members agreed and said that as much as this playground has been a cherished community memory, they need to "bite the bullet" and close it permanently.
Rudy Villanyi, facilities manager for the Nanuet School District, said it may take $8,600-9,000 to dismantle and remove the playground.
"I think it should come down relatively soon," he said.
The board also discussed what to do with the empty spot after the playground goes. Right now it's still undecided, but they know they need to move quickly.
"We need to take it down regardless for safety reasons," said Board Member Anne Byrne adding that they need to get word out to the community as fast as possible.
"It's such an important part of the community. The community truly built it," said Byrne. "We didn't have contractors come in, just (their) bare hands. It was an incredible experience how this (playground) started from nothing.
In a letter McNeill released today, he answered some anticipated questions.
Q: Why do we have to remove the Highview playground?
It is a safety issue and the District is obligated to protect the public from injuries and accidents.
Q: How did you learn that the playground is unsafe?
The District was notified by its insurance carrier's certified playground inspector that the playground poses a safety risk. The District's insurance company has been reluctant to cover the playground for the last few years and we have now exhausted this option.
Q: Can the playground be repaired?
No.  The materials used in this wooden playground including the infrastructure have a life expectancy of 20 years. 
Q: What is involved in the removal of the playground?
All wood and plastic structures will be removed in their entirety and disposed of.  After removal the site will be graded.
Q: What are you going to do with the space after the playground is removed?
In the near future the District will consider all options and ideas for use of this space at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Education.
Q: Where can children play in the interim?
The new Highview School playground (situated behind the Highview School building) is available on weekends and during school vacations. (On school days Highview's afterschool program uses this playground until 6 p.m.)

In memory of this community icon and its near-future closing date, Patch is collecting memories and pictures related to the old Highview playground for an article. If you have a specific memory or picture you’d like to share about the playground, please send it in: