Children, parents speak out over Saluda playground equipment removal

Published 7:38 pm Thursday, March 27, 2014

Children in Saluda picketed the city last week after playground equipment was removed from McCreery Park. (photo submitted by Ellen Rogers)

Children in Saluda picketed the city last week after playground equipment was removed from McCreery Park. (photo submitted by Ellen Rogers)

City says equipment was deemed unsafe

The City of Saluda’s decision to remove some playground equipment at McCreery Park has stirred debate amongst some parents and children.
Last Friday, children were picketing the playground and city hall with signs saying, “Bring back our playground city hall. Bad decision,” Children are our future, but we need good leadership now” and “kids come first.”
The playground equipment removed was a fitness/obstacle course section at the park used by older children and adults. The city is planning to convert the park to install an amphitheater for community concerts but also keep playground equipment for children.
City officials say there have been several meetings regarding the future of the park, but some parents say they were left out of the loop and the equipment shouldn’t have been removed without money or plans for its replacement.
Ellen Rogers, who runs The Porpoise Room, an after school program for children, sent city council a list of questions following the removal of the equipment. She also expressed her concerns regarding the amphitheater and plans for the playground at the city’s March meeting, prior to the removal of the equipment.
“I am confused about the plans and implementation of said plans for McCreery Park,” Rogers told commissioners, “most specifically about the fate and future of the playground areas and equipment. While I am sure the mixed messages have been inadvertent, the confusion remains.”
Rogers asked commissioners if they were aware the equipment was to be removed last Friday and asked why the equipment was removed when there is no money to either build the amphitheater or replace the equipment. She also asked if commissioners had read recommendations from a field consultant regarding the equipment and if there were any considerations made for extending the life of the old equipment until new equipment could be funded.
Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden says there is a master plan to revitalize the park and the risk manager from the city’s insurance company reviewed the playground equipment a few months ago and told the city the equipment is out of date, is in disrepair and needed to be removed, replaced or repaired. Letters were sent to all who donated the equipment approximately 16 years ago, Baisden said, asking if they wanted to help replace the equipment. Only one donor replied saying they had no problem with the equipment being removed and would be willing to donate for new equipment, Baisden said. The board of commissioners voted to pay for the master park plan, which makes the city eligible to apply to Kaboom as a Playful City for a grant of up to $20,000 to improve the playground and make it handicap accessible, according to Baisden.
But Rogers said she was there when the risk assessment representative looked over the equipment and made her recommendations, which was not to remove the equipment unless and until the money was available to buy new equipment.
“She actually suggested extending the life of the wooden structures,” Rogers said, “which could have been done easily with sanding and sealing.”
Some children who use the equipment responded to the Bulletin with their feelings this week.
“I participated Friday in speaking out because I felt like even though I’m a kid it’s important that our leaders know how we feel about our playground,” said Gabriel Albrecht, age nine. “We need to be good citizens and share our opinions. For the town to take away our playground equipment it feels like they don’t care about the kids in our community. We truly enjoyed playing afterschool at the park. Our choices are limited in what to do downtown and this was our place. A town’s leaders should consider a kid’s feelings. We are the future of our town and need a place of our own to enjoy.”
Joni Mahaffey-Rauschenbach said her son Wylie enjoyed hanging out on that side of the park and was upset to see it was removed. When Wylie found out why it was removed, Raushenbach said he didn’t think it was fair to give that space to the adults.
“Slowly but surely Saluda is changing and I’m not sure it’s changing in a positive direction for families,” Raushenbach said.
She said the city is a Playful City USA and it doesn’t seem indicative to take away half the park to let people listen to music once a week or twice a month. She also said taking away the fitness course, which promoted healthy living, also takes away that message for the city.
Micah Albrecht, age five, said he will miss the playground.
“We will miss our playground,” Micah Albrecht said. “It was my favorite place to play. I liked that we could make posters and tell adults how we feel. I hope they listen and understand how they would feel if we took away their favorite place.”
Sara Bell, local business owner and parent of a nine-year-old and a four-year-old said it’s important to know that the city is not doing away with all the play space for children. She said not only does Saluda have McCreery Park, but just a block away is the school playground which was recently updated.
“As a parent I don’t feel like it’s a loss,” Bell said. “And I feel the amphitheater, like the farmers market has been, will be another community opportunity for our family to enjoy.”
Bell also said as a business owner she has never seen another project that has had more opportunity for community involvement. The park and amphitheater is a project of the city’s Small Town Main Street program.
“I can’t think of another community project that had involved a broader representation of our community,” Bell said. “The plans for the park have been in the works for over two years, starting with general community input meetings. To be critical of it in the 11th hour feels more personally motivated than in the best interest of our entire community.”
Saluda commissioner Carolyn Ashburn said she apologizes if there has been any confusion created about the plans for McCreery Park.
“The previous board had several meetings and discussions concerning the park,” Ashburn said. “At one such meeting, prior to the election, the board voted to hire a person to create a master plan for the park, which would help the city to speed up the process of applying for any grants that might be available.”
Ashburn said the objectives of the meeting have always been to update the park with new playground equipment and to make the park handicap accessible for all Saluda’s citizens to enjoy.
“After suggestions at two of the public meetings, an amphitheater was added to the plan, which will also create a wider and more open area for children and will be a benefit for Saluda School and other groups,” said Ashburn. “Saluda is planning to enlarge the current area that was available for concerts.”
That area, Ashburn continued, is where some of the playground equipment was deemed unsafe for children to use. She said the 35 x 100-foot area is to be seeded with a seed mat or sod in early April (weather permitting) with the first concert at the Top of the Grade area scheduled for May 9.
There is also work in progress to raise money towards the amphitheater from grants, donations and other fundraising events, which will hopefully allow for seating on the hill behind the same area by the 2015 season, said Ashburn.
Rogers said there were plenty of children of all ages who used the obstacle course almost every day in good weather.
“I was there with the children who attend my afterschool program on Thursday afternoon,” Rogers said. “A six-year-old learned to climb the parallel bars, a seven-year-old proudly climbed and jumped from the high bar and a 10-year old and I raced on the entire obstacle course. Then, Friday morning, a friend and I ran the course as training for a mud run. So, I was absolutely shocked when five hours later the equipment had been totally destroyed.”
Rogers said she’s not knocking progress but the majority of parents aren’t aware of the topics discussed at the city’s meeting nor are they able to attend. She said for such an important topic, parents should have been asked for input.
Rogers also said some difficulty for her is contradictory information coming out of the meetings. She said she expressed the confusion and asked for clarification at the previous week’s city commissioner meeting and left with the impression that the playground wouldn’t be dismantled anytime soon.
The city has since scheduled a meeting on May 22 at the Saluda Fire Department for the Small Town Main Street program and is inviting and encouraging parents at Saluda school to attend. Mary Weber, the park designer is scheduled to present the McCreery Park Master Plan and can address questions, commissioner Lynn Cass said.
“This will be a celebration of our accomplishments in the Small Town Main Street program and how we move forward, and will be a good way to present the plans to parents who use the park, along with their children,” said Cass.
Click below to see the city’s McCreery Park master plan draft.

Master Park Plan Draft 3-20-14

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