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HES playgrounds pose hazards

News editor

The message Erin Beavers delivered Monday to the Hillsboro school board was direct and urgent: children at Hillsboro Elementary School are at risk when they’re on the school’s playgrounds.

“We’re not anywhere close to being a safety-compliant playground,” said Beavers, the chair of the playground committee for the school site council.

Beavers showed pictures and detailed potential hazards, her comments bolstered by existing standards for playground safety and work with a professional playground consultant.

“I’m going to have three young ones going through this school,” Beavers said. “My initial thought was, ‘Playground improvement, that’s probably spiffing up. We probably need some paint, we need to replace some equipment that’s been out there for awhile.’”

What Beavers and others who toured the playground with teachers discovered was worse than they expected.

Cosmetic issues like paint were a problem, and so was drainage, with rainwater pooling underneath equipment, making it unusable until the water evaporated and the mud dried.

Safety hazards, however, were the biggest concern, including splintering wood, dilapidated equipment, and rocks and dirt that don’t provide necessary cushioning to avoid injuries with children who fall from playground equipment.

One child recently suffered an injury falling from a piece of equipment similar to a zip line, Beavers said.

“Two weeks ago we had a second-grade girl fall off of this thing,” she said. “She’d ridden it down and then she fell off face down into the dirt and she ended up with a concussion. That shouldn’t happen because there should be surface material underneath it.”

Beavers described options the committee considered before settling on a recommendation for fixing the playground.

The preferred solution, Beavers said, is also the most expensive. Rocks and dirt would be replaced with a resilient poured rubber surface, laid on a concrete foundation. The surface would be porous, preventing water from pooling. New equipment would be purchased, and some pieces that are in good condition could be re-used.

The playground is currently divided into three sections for various age groups. The proposal would convert the middle section into a courtyard for educational and leisure purposes.

The estimated cost of the new playground is $150,000. Beavers said $33,000 has been raised, with additional fundraisers to come. Some local businesses have said they had interest in providing support when the project is farther along.

A Kansas Department of Health and Environment grant could pay half the cost of installing the poured rubber base, provided the district matches the contribution. Beavers said the deadline for applying is Dec. 1, and the group needs to have commitments for the matching funds when they apply.

Board president Eddie Weber said the playground was worse than Beavers described. “I don’t know if anybody’s been down there, but I went down there the other night. Those pictures don’t do it justice — it’s bad, it’s embarrassing. Something needs to be done. We’re better than that.”

The board took the first step by authorizing the portion of the plan to create the courtyard. Most of the work will be done by volunteers, Beavers said.

Last modified Oct. 16, 2014

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