WESTERLY — Deficiencies and safety concerns led officials to close the playgrounds at State Street Elementary School and Tower Street School Community Center and to partially close playgrounds at the town's two other elementary schools in May.
The move to close and in some cases cordon off parts of the playgrounds followed an inspection report by Childscapes, a Marshfield, Mass.-company that installs and maintains playgrounds. The company inspected the facilities in April and offered advice on possible repairs or replacement of equipment. Part of the company’s assignment was to verify the findings of Reale Associates, an Ocean Bluff, Mass., company that inspected the equipment in late 2017.
The companies determined that "play was not recommended" on the equipment that was taken out of service in May. Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau said the district's facilities manager, John Pagano, recommended taking the equipment off line after receiving the Childscapes report. Pagano started working in the district earlier this school year. He is an employee of Aramark Corporation, which provides services to the school district under a contract.
"If someone says something as definitive as that, his tendency is going to be to shut it down" because of potential liability concerns, Garceau told the School Committee at a meeting June 12.
According to a summary of the inspection reports compiled by Pagano, the structural integrity of ramps and decks of a playground piece at State Street School were found to have been "compromised" by age and wear, and continued play on the structure was not recommended. A three bay swing set at State Street School was recommended to be removed from service because of worn parts and rust.
A playground unit at Springbrook School was found to be rusty and worn and "nearing the end of its safe use life." Another piece, for climbing, presented a pinch hazard to children because of a frayed cable cover. A swing at Springbrook was found to be improperly installed, and a dedication plaque was too close to the play area.
At Tower Street School Community Center, playground equipment decks were determined to be in "poor condition" and taking the equipment out of service was recommended.
At Dunn's Corners School, there was more "age, rust and wear." A free-standing climber and track ride were near the end of their safe use life, according to the Reale Associates inspection, and "play is not recommended" on the deck of an age 5-12 "Miracle" structure. The report recommended removal of the Fitness System and Miracle structure and new swings and hardware for a three-bay swing set.
According to Pagano's report, some repairs were made following Reale Associates' inspection, but in some cases components were not replaced because of the unavailability of parts and the failure of vendors to respond. The equipment, in some cases, is so old that parts are no longer available, Pagano told the School Committee.
Pagano's report also described work that needed to be done to the play area of the playgrounds. The problems include failing retaining walls and the need for "extensive landscaping including grass replacement, tree trimming and erosion and drainage repairs."
School Committee member Mary Adams asked why the playground problems were not discussed while the committee was involved in its 2019-20 budget deliberations. Garceau said that playground funds are available in the district's capital repair budget, but work has been delayed because of difficulties finding enough vendors to offer quotes on equipment repairs and replacement.
Pagano concurred with Garceau, but said he believed he had succeeded in contacting a sufficient numbers of vendors recently. He said he expects the companies to inspect the facilities and submit recommendations and cost estimates.
School officials will have to develop a budget for work at all of the playgrounds and then determine the scale of the projects based on the funds available, Pagano said.