March 30, 1998 in Nation/World

Safety Issue Isn’t Child’s Play Replacement Of Dangerous Playground Equipment Is Part Of Cda Schools’ Proposed Levy

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Hayden Lake Elementary School Principal Kathy Kuntz can rattle off a list of safety concerns at her school’s playground.

There’s not enough padding for falls. Three swings hang from a pole where federal guidelines say there should only be two. Old wooden climbing structures are crumbling. Kids trip and skin their knees on concrete circles jutting out of the ground.

District maintenance crews have already removed more than a dozen pieces of playground equipment from Coeur d’Alene schools in the last two years, maintenance chief Bryan Martin said.

“It’s outdated,” Martin told the school board last Monday.

“It’s falling apart. It’s dangerous. We’re in trouble out there.”

If the district’s proposed four-year, $19.81 million levy passes on May 19, crews will continue to take out unsafe equipment - but this time they’ll have something to replace it with. The levy will raise about $2.4 million to pay for district needs, including playground equipment.

The board had originally considered raising $510,000 for new playgrounds at seven elementary schools, with about $70,000 going to parent groups at each school to shop for new equipment.

But some board members believed that was excessive and didn’t think Coeur d’Alene voters would approve it. Under the new plan, the district can dip into the fund for new equipment as the need arises.

Most playgrounds have been supported by funds from Parent-Teacher Organizations, but the PTOs just can’t raise enough money to keep up, said Winton Elementary School PTO President Beth Dane.

“It’s not a kid-friendly environment,” Dane said of Winton’s wooden playground structure. “It’s really outdated and it’s not safe. Even the material it’s made out of is not a good choice.”

At Ramsey Elementary School, most playground equipment was installed about two decades ago, Principal Ann Walker said.

Wood has begun to separate on the structure, part of the slide was replaced and an old merry-go-round has got to go, Walker said.

“By today’s standards, none of our equipment is safe,” she said. “None of ours is handicapped accessible.”

Playground accidents are the leading cause of injuries to students ages 5 to 14 during the school day, causing about 150,000 injuries and 17 deaths each year in the United States, experts say.

Several students broke their arms on playground equipment at Hayden Lake Elementary early in the school year, but Kuntz said the injuries stopped after the students were taught how to use the equipment better.

Coeur d’Alene District health coordinator Terri Ethridge said she has not seen an unusual number of playground injuries, but she said there’s room for improvement.

“It needs to be updated according to safety standards,” Ethridge said. “But the injuries I’ve seen have not been the fault of the playground equipment.”

There are no federal or state laws mandating playground safety, but there are guidelines set forth by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Before school districts pay thousands of dollars for playground toys, administrators should consider not only the safety but educational value of the equipment, said Donna Thompson, director of the National Program for Playground Safety at the University of Northern Iowa.

“Why do you have a playground? The school has to be able to answer that question,” Thompson said.

“How is it going to contribute to their learning? What is it they do that will help them to be better physically educated. There isn’t anything else in the curriculum where people buy stuff so kids can have fun,” she said.

Playgrounds must be properly supervised, have age-appropriate design, proper surfacing and be properly maintained, Thompson said.

Until more money comes in, though, Martin and his crews will keep taking unsafe equipment out.

“Our policy right now is we don’t fix any of the old stuff,” Martin said. “If it starts to go, we just remove it.”

But that can leave some playgrounds bare.

Kuntz points to a scuffed green bar jutting out of the ground where the teeter-totter used to be. An empty patch at the far end of the playground used to be home to a walking bridge. But the wood started to rot and crumble.

“I am just waiting for a major accident to happen,” Kuntz said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story:

ELECTION

The Coeur d’Alene School District’s four year, $19.81 million levy goes to voters May 19. It will raise about $2.4 million to pay for district needs, including playground equipment.

SAFETY CHECKLIST

Here’s the National Playground Safety Institute’s checklist of the 12 leading causes of injury on playgrounds:

Improper protective surfacing. The ground under and around equipment should be soft enough to cushion a fall.

Inadequate fall zone. Protective surfacing should cover six feet in all directions around stationary equipment; farther around movable toys like swings.

Protrusion and entanglement hazards. Bolts, rungs or handholds should not stick out and ropes should be anchored at both ends.

Entrapment in openings. There should be no openings in equipment that measure between 3.5 inches and 9 inches, enabling children’s heads to become stuck.

Insufficient equipment spacing. There should be a minimum of 12 feet between play structures. Swings and other moving equipment should be located away from other structures.

Trip hazards. Exposed concrete footings, changes in surface levels, containment borders and tree roots can cause kids to trip.

Lack of supervision. About 40 percent of playground injuries are related to insufficient supervision.

Age-inappropriate activities. Areas for pre-schoolers should be separated from those intended for school-age children.

Lack of maintenance. Hardware should be secure and wood, metal or plastic should not show any signs of deterioration.

Pinch, crush shearing and sharp-edge hazards. Parts should be checked to make sure there are no sharp edges or moving pieces that could crush or pinch a child’s finger.

Platforms with no guardrails. Equipment for school-age children should have guardrails on elevated surfaces higher than 30 inches.

Equipment not recommended for playgrounds. Heavy, animal-figure swings and multiple-occupancy swings, free swinging ropes, swinging exercise rings and trapeze bars are not advised.

These sidebars appeared with the story: ELECTION The Coeur d’Alene School District’s four year, $19.81 million levy goes to voters May 19. It will raise about $2.4 million to pay for district needs, including playground equipment.

SAFETY CHECKLIST Here’s the National Playground Safety Institute’s checklist of the 12 leading causes of injury on playgrounds: Improper protective surfacing. The ground under and around equipment should be soft enough to cushion a fall. Inadequate fall zone. Protective surfacing should cover six feet in all directions around stationary equipment; farther around movable toys like swings. Protrusion and entanglement hazards. Bolts, rungs or handholds should not stick out and ropes should be anchored at both ends. Entrapment in openings. There should be no openings in equipment that measure between 3.5 inches and 9 inches, enabling children’s heads to become stuck. Insufficient equipment spacing. There should be a minimum of 12 feet between play structures. Swings and other moving equipment should be located away from other structures. Trip hazards. Exposed concrete footings, changes in surface levels, containment borders and tree roots can cause kids to trip. Lack of supervision. About 40 percent of playground injuries are related to insufficient supervision. Age-inappropriate activities. Areas for pre-schoolers should be separated from those intended for school-age children. Lack of maintenance. Hardware should be secure and wood, metal or plastic should not show any signs of deterioration. Pinch, crush shearing and sharp-edge hazards. Parts should be checked to make sure there are no sharp edges or moving pieces that could crush or pinch a child’s finger. Platforms with no guardrails. Equipment for school-age children should have guardrails on elevated surfaces higher than 30 inches. Equipment not recommended for playgrounds. Heavy, animal-figure swings and multiple-occupancy swings, free swinging ropes, swinging exercise rings and trapeze bars are not advised.


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