SF playgrounds get safety report cards

April 25, 2008 6:47:07 AM PDT
They're handing out report cards in San Francisco, not to children, but to playgrounds. It's an assessment of how safe the public playgrounds are.

There were 144 playgrounds in San Francisco that were inspected and 18 either flunked or almost flunked. The organization handing out these grades says it used national playground safety guidelines to do the evaluation. Some of these facilities were found to be unhealthy, dangerous and no place to play.

West Sunset playground sure looks like a nice enough park; for maybe a little exercise or for Rene Tom its great place to slide. But according to the nonprofit Neighborhood Parks Council, Rene is surrounded by danger.

"The combination of a worn and feathered wood structure with exposed splinters, some rusty metal parts or exposed bolts, some unclean, unsafe sand and unsafe distances between structures - result in a failed playground," said Meredith Thomas, Neighborhood Parks Council.

Thomas also says the sand might contain arsenic leaching from the pressure treated wood at the 30-year-old playground.

"These neighborhood playgrounds and recreation centers are very safe places for you children to play. It is really irresponsible for people to assume that they need to be alarmed when they come to the playground," said Rose Dennis, SF Recreation and Parks department.

Dennis says playgrounds, such as the one at Sunset Recreation Center, were state of the art back in the 70's when they were built, and are being cared for until they can be replaced. While getting pictures of the slide, photographer Steve Stifter noticed a sharp piece of metal protruding. The slide was immediately marked as off limits.

"We will manage it in place, that means removing all graffiti, litter and the damage will be immediately removed and replaced," said Dennis.

In February, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved Measure A, a $185 million bond issue to re-build some city parks. Out of that, West Sunset will get a grand total of nothing. It's in Supervisor Carmen Chu's district.

"The $185 million actually has been earmarked really for some of the play structures that were more in danger of earthquake safety issues and things like that," said Carmen Chu, SF supervisor.

So rehabbing the city's playgrounds falls to neighborhood groups, like the one to which Rene's dad belongs. it's called Friends of West Sunset playground.

"This area is full of homeowners, single family homeowners, paying property tax that feel really marginalized because we're not seeing it come back to us," said Art Tom, Friends of West Sunset Playground.

So with the help of the Neighborhood Parks Council, local groups are planning to do what the city can't afford to do, take steps towards getting their playgrounds, straight A's.

Currently, the Neighborhood Parks Council only grades parks in San Francisco. The report card will be presented to the mayor on Friday.


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