The town must balance safety with community interests as it faces the prospect of tearing down the Small World playground next to Kiwanis Ice Arena for safety reasons. The issue was the subject of much discussion at the April 1 Town Board meeting
“We wanted to build this playground based on what the children wanted,” said George Heidcamp, during the public comment period. “And what we did is, we went around to all the elementary schools and we engaged all the students in the elementary schools. We went in there and we wanted them to draw on a piece of paper what they would like their playground to look like.”
Heidcamp said the community came out and donated time and equipment to get the job done.
“We built that playground in its entirety, from the day we started ‘til the day we let the kids in there, in five days,” he said. “It was so mind-boggling. It was probably the biggest community project in the history of Saugerties, at least in my time, anyway.”
But now, faced with an insurance and safety liability, town officials say the playground, built in 1994, doesn’t meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, the wood is beginning to splinter and chemicals used in pressure treating the lumber are leaching out.
Heidcamp, emotional at times, said that no matter what is done, the town should name the playground in the late Marie Post’s honor.
“She was so proud,” he said. “And I owe this to her. That was her dream. And I helped to make that dream come true for the kids. I just wish she was here now.
“I would ask the Town Board, please, name that Marie Post Memorial Small World Playground. That was her dream. She was one of my best friends and I miss her dearly. She’s touched everybody’s heart in this room, I think, at one time or another, and we owe it to her.”
Parent Sheila Hurley said there must be alternatives to tearing down a symbol of community cooperation like the Small World playground.
“I want to convey my sort of shock that we were told recently that it was going to be torn down,” said Hurley, adding her children still enjoy the playground.
“There’s families there. Kids are playing on it. Families are sitting in the well-designed seating area to watch them,” she said.
“I think it would be very helpful to everyone if the process were slowed down just a bit. Perhaps there could be more public discussion about what alternatives there are to tearing it down, to what extent it would be torn down and what designs there might be for replacing it.”
Addressing the concern about splinters, Hurley said anybody who has walked on docks, gone to Coney Island or been on someone’s deck would get splinters.
“If it’s been maintained… We could take measures against that,” she said.
Superintendent of Parks and Buildings Greg Chorvas said unfortunately replacing the playground has become a necessity.
“In the last two to three years, there have been a number of pieces beyond repair that we’ve had to remove,” Chorvas said.
In 2013, a certified playground consultant questioned Small World’s structural integrity, noting similar playgrounds normally have a lifespan of 15 years.
“I’ve had numerous parents say ‘It’s about time,’” he said of the impending replacement.
In January, when the town changed insurance carriers, the new insurer’s risk analysis recommended replacement, Chorvas said.
In addition to the increased risk of splinters, Chorvas said children are exposed to chemicals like arsenic, used in the pressure-treated lumber commonly used at the time. Parks crews have resealed the wood numerous times but exposure is still a risk.
“Even after sealing, every time a splinter or crack opens, that stuff is all exposed,” he said. “I personally feel… the safety of the children is decreasing and the liability is increasing. I don’t think anyone wants to see a child get injured.”
The wooden playground does not meet modern standards, which require minimal hard surfaces. A new one would be made out of plastic or some sort of composite material, Chorvas said. Even the fill on the ground has to be a relatively soft material at a cost of $2,400 a truckload.
But not all from the Small World playground would be lost. All plaques and signs honoring those who donated or helped with the project will be saved or re-created, Chorvas said.
“The history will remain in place to remember those who donated to make this possible,” said Chorvas, who was on hand all five days of the original construction.
The town still has to figure out design, planning and fundraising for a new playground, estimated to cost $140,000 to $185,000.
In the meantime, Chorvas said a playground from the now-closed Sophie Finn school in the Kingston district donated to the town can serve as a temporary playground. Chorvas estimates it can be set up in three or four days depending on how many volunteers he can enlist.
Chorvas said he has to have a serious discussion with town leaders about whether to open Small World this year given the liability issues.
“We’re in the very first stages of this,” Deputy Supervisor Fred Costello said. “We have conceptual designs pending from the company who was involved in the original part of it. The challenge this year is going to be figuring out how much of the playground can be open this year,” he added. “Going forward we have to raise a lot of money. We’re going to try to pick a concept that’s suitable to the community. It’s a delicate thing because this playground runs deep in many people’s hearts. That is a wonderful thing. It’s a sense of pride there for all of us.”