Alternative Funding

Playground fall surfaces of the past included asphalt, hard packed dirt surface, decomposed granite, and pea gravel.  Before many of the current standards smaller jurisdictions considered themselves lucky to install even a modest play structure with staff/volunteers that often had little knowledge regarding playground safety. Before you all say it, I know you played playgrounds with such surfaces and turned out just fine.  Times have changed and knowledge of safety standards has expanded, thus in this case regulation has improved new build play areas, but what about all those older build play grounds?

Recent changes to both ADA compliance and stricter fall material safety ratings left older modes of fall material in non-compliance

With limited staff and funds, the city of Central Point, Ore. had to figure out how to bring their playground amenities up to code. Photo by Corey Qualls

thus adding to already strained budgets for many jurisdictions. The City of Central Point Oregon is such a jurisdiction that found itself falling short (pardon the pun) of standards both for safety and ADA compliance due to low cost construction materials used when playgrounds were built years ago.

The mentality of the staff and community at the time was using the lowest cost materials, but at least we will have some place for the kids to play.  The majority of Central Point’s problem surfaces were installed prior to the creation of a parks department.  Maintenance workers did the best they knew or at least met prior standards within the budget they were provided.  Current budget constraints and an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” attitude add to the replacement problems.  It is broke, or at least below compliance standards so it should be fixed.  This is the attitude of our current parks staff, of which all have taken the CPSI course and strive to provide the safest play surfaces for our community. The question we ask ourselves now is how to pay for each project and how our small staff can accomplish this feat?

Thanks to a local networking meeting the answer to our question and an opportunity for a unique partnership opened from an unlikely place, the Jackson County Community Justice Transition Center.  Incarcerated workers have long been as a source of labor for weed abatement projects, but assisting in the rehabilitation of a playground is a first for Central Point.  The cost of utilizing the Transition Center workers is substantially lower, thus saving the City money that can be reinvested in rehabilitation of additional troubled spots.  It is a win-win for all, the incarcerated workers have a unique job experience that they can list on their work experience and the City gets assistance with a problem that needs to be corrected.

The workers are supervised closely by staff at the Community Justice Transition Center, are hand-picked for skills that are appropriate for the job and are non-violent offenders that have earned the right to work on crew projects.  The typical orange jump suited offender is a thing of the past, these workers come dressed to work in jeans and shirts.  They are motivated to do a good job and thus their work to date has been exemplary.  The workers get a sense of pride in a job well done and the kids get a playground that is safe and accessible, another win-win.  You might say that both the offenders and the playgrounds get rehabilitated during these projects.

Jennifer Boardman , CPRP, is the manager for the Central Point parks and Recreation Department.