RI Playgrounds Deficient, Dangerous

All of the early childhood development experts agree: play is important. But not all playgrounds are created equal. Nor is their design the whole story. In fact, there is a lot that goes into playground design and maintenance that has nothing to do with esthetics. Unfortunately, Roosevelt Island playgrounds do not comply with the design and maintenance standards required by law.

Various New York State Departments, including Education, Health, Parks, and Environmental Conservation, have formally adopted the playground safety guidelines promulgated by the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) as standards by which playground design and safety should be judged.

Maintenance

The guidelines require regular maintenance inspections. They also require that a comprehensive maintenance program be developed for each playground. Playground areas and equipment should be inspected for excessive wear, deterioration, and potential hazards.

Erica Spencer-El, the Community Relations Specialist for the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, says that RIOC is in compliance. “If a user of any Island playground park reports damaged or hazardous equipment, the issue is addressed immediately with our maintenance team or, if the issue is severe, an outside compnay to fix the problem.” Parents have their doubts. For years, there has been a hole in the fence separating the Al Lewis playground from the handball courts.

Additionally, records are supposed to be kept of all maintenance inspections and repairs, including the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions and any checklists used. When inspections are conducted, the person performing it is supposed to sign and date the form used. A record of any accident or injury reported to have occurred on the playground should also be retained. This helps to identify potential hazards or dangerous design features that should be corrected. Despite being asked, RIOC did not reveal whether they keep playground-specific maintenance or accident records.

Spencer-El says that “Site checks are periodically performed at all playgrounds, and custodial processes such as trash removal, sweeping the area and walkways, graffiti removal, etc., are performed on a daily basis.” Island parents beg to differ. There is often construction debris littered on the new Blackwell House playground. There was a two-meter-long tree branch hanging over the age 2-5 area of the Octagon playground for four or five days in August.

Dangerous Materials

PlaygroundSLIDEThe guidelines recommend against using bare metal for platforms, slides, or steps. When exposed to direct sunlight, metal can reach temperatures high enough to cause serious contact burns in a matter of seconds. The slides at the Al Lewis playground are metal, as are those at the Octagon playground.

Inspection by a qualified person is required after a playground’s assembly and before its first use. Island parents may recall what happened when the new Blackwell House playground opened. Children were playing with nuts, washers, and bolts that fell off the equipment shortly after its inauguration. (See tinyurl.com/Playgrounds3315.)

Age-Inappropriate Designs

According to the CPSC rules, playgrounds should present a series of graduated challenges that are “appropriate for age-related abilities, and should be ones that children can perceive and choose to undertake.” Age-appropriate playground designs should accommodate differences with regard to the type, scale, and layout of equipment. The guidelines address the different needs of toddlers, preschool-age children (2-5 years) and school-age children (5-12 years). The age groupings overlap because the CPSC architects believe that there are developmental overlaps at age two and again at age five where a parent may choose a playground slightly below or slightly above the child’s age.

The new Blackwell House playground, built to replace the Tot Lot, is not a Tot Lot itself, but geared toward mixed ages. Parents of the very young don’t feel it’s safe for their toddlers. The guidelines make their case for them. “For playgrounds intended to serve children of all ages, the layout of pathways and the landscaping of the playground should show the distinct areas for the different age groups. The areas should be separated by a buffer zone, which could be an area with shrubs or benches. This separation and buffer zone will reduce the chance of injury from older, more active children running through areas filled with younger children with generally slower movement and reaction times.” Blackwell is a small space with one big structure that is ostensibly meant to serve both the 2-5 and 5-12 age brackets, but that’s impossible, as the younger of the 2-5-year-olds are not able to climb up onto it. On that issue, the CPSC makes clear that a challenging height for a 5-12-year-old is a dangerous one for a 2-5-year-old.

RIOC has acknowledged the issue and says it is working on this concern.

Signage

Signage is a big issue on Roosevelt Island in general. The playgrounds are no exception. The CPSC explains that although the intended user group should be obvious from the design and scale of equipment, there must be signs and/or labels posted in the playground area or on the equipment to guide supervisors as to the age appropriateness of the equipment. Signs should indicate whether the playground itself, or a given structure, is geared toward age 2-5 or 5-12. RIOC is aware of this issue as well and, according to Spencer-El, is working on it.

Of the conditions at the new Blackwell House playground, Aaron Hamburger, Chair of the Island Services Committee of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, says “Older children frequently use the playground, crowding out toddlers, and dogs roam freely in the playground.” What is lacking there is the sign that appears at all New York City Parks Department Playgrounds, limiting the playground to children and their parents, children being defined as under 12. As Hamburger indicates, there is a teenager problem there, especially in the summer – and there is also a dog problem.

Dogs

There is obvious evidence that dog owners are using the new Blackwell House playground at night. They may prefer it to the dog run, since it has benches. Some weeks ago, parents went to the playground only to find a huge pile of poop in the swing area. Ultimately, a parent cleaned it up – a parent who left his three small kids in the playground while he went in search of a plastic bag to take responsibility for someone else’s mess.

There are laws regarding this problem as well. The New York canine waste law (Health Code §161.03) states that “it shall be the duty of each dog owner or person having possession, custody or control of a dog to remove any feces left by his or her dog on any sidewalk, gutter, street or other public area.” A playground is a public area.

The leash law (Health Code §161.05) makes very clear that, in New York City, a dog must be restrained by a leash or chain not more than six feet in length when the animal is in a public place (except in designated off-leash areas).

PlaygroundFENCENew York City Parks also require leashing. New York City Parks Rules and Regulations §1-04i (1) informs dog owners that their dogs are subject to seizing or impounding if unleashed or unrestrained in any park under any circumstances. Dogs are also not allowed in any New York City Parks Department playground, zoo, swimming pool and bathing area and adjacent bathing beach, fountain, ballfield, basketball court, handball court, or tennis court. contractor who specializes in play equipment is called to fix the problem.” Parents have their doubts. For years, there has been a hole in the fence separating the Al Lewis playground from the handball courts.

Additionally, records are supposed to be kept of all maintenance inspections and repairs, including the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions and any checklists used. When inspections are conducted, the person performing it is supposed to sign and date the form used. A record of any accident or injury reported to have occurred on the playground should also be retained. This helps to identify potential hazards or dangerous design features that should be corrected. Despite being asked, RIOC did not reveal whether they keep playground-specific maintenance or accident records.

Spencer-El says that “Site checks are periodically performed at all playgrounds, and custodial processes such as trash removal, sweeping the area and walkways, graffiti removal, etc., are performed on a daily basis.” Island parents beg to differ. There is often construction debris littered on the new Blackwell House playground. There was a two-meter-long tree branch hanging over the age 2-5 area of the Octagon playground for four or five days in August.

Tags: RIOC Briana Warsing Island Life

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