WRONG PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT?
Parents Voice Discontent To Council Members
June 11, 2015
By Lynne Bronstein
Neighborhood discontent about the playground facilities at Syd Kronenthal Park led to a meeting on June 2 for area residents to discuss the matter with members of the City Council and Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC).
The discussion had been prompted by complaints that there had not been public input on recently installed playground equipment at Syd Kronenthal Park. The new equipment had been dedicated at a "grand opening ceremony" on April 30.
Subsequently, at the Parks and Recreation meeting of May 5 and the May 11 council meeting, parents had brought up such issues as: inadequate notification regarding the development of the playground project; the elimination of traditional swings and slides; the separate areas for 2-5 year-olds and 5-12 age groups; safety issues; lack of enough facilities for children younger than 5; and how the city will spend $61,000 in Prop A grant funds as yet not used for playground expansion.
The section of the playground aimed at 2-5 year olds contains one strap-secured infant "bucket" swing and one regular strapless seat swing, and two small slides, with a rubberized play surface. The new equipment for 5-12 year-olds includes several constructions for climbing and whirling, with a play surface of "fibar" or wood chips.
One frequent complaint of parents, including some who spoke at the meeting, was that the 5-12 playground area's equipment is sometimes too difficult for children to play on independently-they need someone to "whirl" then around on the mini-carousels for example.
The minimal facilities at the 2-5 year-old section also sparked discontent, as many parents in the neighborhood have very young children and have had to take them to other parks to find more places for them to play.
Justin Cole said he and his 20-month-old daughter had been prevented from entering the playground while the pre-school was in session during the day. Yet, he noted, what other time was there for a child his daughter's age to come to a playground?
City staff had provided attendees with cards on which they could comment on various proposed designs for additional playground equipment. But as one parent put it: "All the designs are great but it would be great if [the city] could get on the fast track here." He explained that his daughter is now three years old and "if mechanisms could be put in place to speed up the process" the playground could have this equipment before she outgrows it.
A designer of video games also called for equipment that is not "stationary" but that kids would be able to move around.
In reply to this idea, PRC director Dan Hernandez noted that safety regulations prevent the equipment from not being fastened down to the playground surface. In addition to safety concerns, "things not fastened down tend to be gone the next day."
Hernandez also responded to the issue of children needing help from adults with some of the equipment: "It will depend on the development of the child."
And Laura Stuart, chair of the PRC, said that the pre-school could solve the problem of people being able to enter by posting signage for people to know it was all right for them to enter for playground usage.
Although attendance at the meeting was full, with many young children playing in the back of the room, one of the complaints heard was that notification for the event had fallen short of what it should have been.
Marta Saragosa was one of several speakers who decried the inadequate notification.
She alleged that notification had gone out only to households that lived within 500 feet of the park. "Only 180 notices were sent out" she said.
She urged attendees to let their neighbors know about meetings of this type, especially neighbors who were not on the Internet.
Grumbles came when Stuart suggested, in response to people who mentioned that Veteran's Park had been able to install better playground facilities, that money was the problem, that the city simply didn't have enough in its budget for the kind of improvements people wanted to see at Kronenthal, and that neighborhood fundraising might be the answer. (The neighbors of Veteran's Park were able to obtain a "KaBOOM!" grant for their playground project).
"Ludicrous" one man in the audience was heard to say.
Scott Zeidman, the former School Board member who is now Vice Chair of the PRC, agreed with the community members who complained that user-friendly equipment had been removed from the playground, replaced with more difficult equipment, and without input from parents. He urged that the process in the future should let people be heard.
Assistant City Manager Martin Cole said that when staff has a better understanding of what the neighbors are looking for (via the comment cards and review of public comment), "We will move along as fast as possible."
One actual user of the playground was heard. A very small youngster named Theodore was handed the microphone and Mayor Mehaul O' Leary asked him "How do you like the playground?"
"I don't know," said Theodore.
His dad explained that Theodore had "cried" when he found the equipment too difficult to play on.