When South End residents saw their dream for a park on the site of a former gas station come true several years ago, it was a cause for celebration. However, the impending removal of the playground has put a bit of a damper on this spirit of neighborhood pride.
The corner of South 48th Street and South Park Avenue had been home to Franco's Oil gas station for many years. After it closed, a small grocery store was there for a while followed by another gas station that remained open for about a year.
The land ended up a polluted parcel with contaminated soil and leaking gas tanks below and junk cars and garbage above. Collaboration between the city and South End Neighborhood Council led to the creation of a 14,000-square-foot park with a basketball court and playground equipment.
Earl Brydson, chair of the council, has lived in the neighborhood since 1961. The parcel sat vacant for 17 years before the park opened, he noted.
The Environmental Protection Agency provided $100,000 to help remove the tanks, with Exxon Mobil contributing $85,000. The city and council bought the land from Pierce County for $13,000, then spent several years raising funds to convert it into a park.
Conor McCarthy from the Public Works Department said city staff was contacted by a neighborhood resident last year who had concerns about the playground. The city asked Metro Parks staff to examine it.
Several problems were discovered. Nine inches of shredded rubber is the minimum standard for protective surfacing. In this park it is only a few inches deep. One post sits in a bucket of concrete at surface level, creating a trip hazard. The report called into question the structural integrity of this and other posts. A significant crack on a slide could cause injury.
McCarthy asked that agency for names of playground equipment specialists. They provided a few and the city brought in Gary Max, president of SiteLines, a supplier of park and playground equipment.
Max pointed out examples of bad equipment installation and inadequate safety surfacing. He recommended removing all the equipment. "To make this playground fully compliant is going to be impossible given the design issues with molded parts. To have the equipment set at the correct elevation it will all need to be pulled up and reinstalled." Replacement equipment would cost between $40,000 and $45,000, Max estimated.
In January city staff met with the council's executive committee regarding the condition of the playground equipment and long-term plans for the park.
Later that month the council's board discussed the issue. McCarthy said if the council is unable to replace the equipment, a picnic area could take the place of the playground.
Brydson said some of the equipment was vandalized. Replacement bolts that were installed, he has since learned, could catch on the clothing of children. The report stated the ground cover is inadequate. "It was adequate at the time we put it in," he remarked.
He also was informed that a child using the slide could collide with the horses on springs. "We measured them, and there is no way a kid could do that."
Regarding the city's estimated cost of a complete replacement, Brydson said, "We do not have that kind of money." He said the company that sold the equipment has been contacted about replacement parts. "We are waiting for them to get back to us."
A sign has been placed on the fence to inform the public that the playground equipment will soon be removed. Brydson said he has gotten calls from several neighborhood residents who want it to stay. If replacement equipment is installed, he estimated it would take two or three years to acquire the grants to pay for it.
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