Wonderland Playground in Need of Significant Safety Repairs

July 29, 2016


by Barbara O’Brien

Windham’s “Wonderland Playground,” a very popular attraction for the town’s younger residents, is in need of significant safety repairs. Such is the judgment of David Witham, risk management supervisor for Primex, Windham’s insurance carrier.

Windham’s Wonderland Playground was built by a group of volunteers in 1990.

This past April, Witham, who is a certified playground safety inspector, conducted a safety audit at Wonderland Playground. This audit was done at the request of Windham’s Recreation Department Coordinator Cheryl Haas, as a proactive risk management practice.

“It is my professional opinion that significant work is needed to make the Wonderland Playground safe,” Witham said. “While we agreed that repairs can make things safer, only new equipment will be able to address all of the safety issues,” he continued. The audit findings reference the American Society for Testing and Materials Standards for the performance of public playgrounds and the accompanying Consumer Product Safety Commission standards for public playgrounds. Witham noted that, in almost every case, surfacing materials at the playground require considerable attention.

Witham asked that Haas establish a plan to correct these deficiencies and to keep him apprised of what progress is being made, no later than Sept. 30, 2016. “I understand that some actions may have to wait for appropriations, while others seemingly can be addressed much quicker,” Witham said. “Nonetheless, I still desire an update to the extent possible,” he stated.

Among the issues cited by Witham is the depth and composition of the surfacing material, which is reportedly not adequate throughout the play areas at Wonderland. The areas that are covered with pea gravel need to be replaced, he said. Other areas, which include wood fiber, do not have a satisfactory depth of materials. Minimum compressed loose-fill surfacing depth, applicable for public playgrounds, is a nine-inch depth of such materials. Also, some structures in Wonderland have a fall height greater than eight feet.

Tree limbs were also observed in close proximity to play equipment at many areas throughout Wonderland. According to regulations, all tree limbs must be trimmed back so that they are no closer than seven feet from any part of the play equipment. Haas said this work will be completed this summer.

Witham also said there are many areas throughout the composite structure where hardwood screws used for fastening are both exposed and rusting. “This hardware presents the obvious hazard that a child could get cut on the sharp rusted edge,” Witham commented. “Additionally, the hardware might be inferior and could lead to equipment failure,” he said. Haas noted that this issue was resolved on June 16.

Witham also took issue with the mechanical digger located on the playground, a situation which has undermined the placement of surfacing materials in the area. According to regulations, surfacing material under and around play structures must extend six feet beyond the edge of the entire structure. Haas said that this problem will be addressed in 2017-2018. Selectman Roger Hohenberger commented on the popularity of the mechanical digger among young children.

Signage at the playground was also recommended by Witham, including age appropriateness, supervision recommended, and warnings regarding the need for helmets and the danger of drawstrings on clothing, which can result in choking. Haas said the signage was completed in mid-June.

Swing seats and chains were also in need of replacement, due to extensive wear and tear. Haas said all swings, S hooks and chains were replaced on June 2. A two-person bench swing was removed on May 27 due to the potential for “battering” type injuries. Two hanging rings were completely removed and the others repaired as recommended.

Witham also noted head entrapment hazards located on Wonderland Playground. This includes openings that are greater than 3.5 inches and less than 9 inches. Haas said these hazards were removed on May 26. Splintering and sharp edges on wooden structures have already been repaired.

“There are numerous tire elements that are broken and pose an obvious safety hazard,” Witham commented. “They should be replaced and/or removed as quickly as possible,” he said. In addition to the structural hazards presented by tires, tires also are great environments for bees and other stinging insects, Witham said. “Tires can also hold water, creating an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes.”

Haas said the issue of tire structures will be addressed either late this year or during 2017. Some of the tires have already been removed, however.

Witham recommended that any metal slides be placed in shaded areas to prevent burns caused by direct sun on the slide chute. If not relocated to a shady location, the metal slides should be removed completely, he cautioned. Warning labels should be placed near the slides, he said. Haas said this issue will be addressed in 2017 or 2018. In the meantime, supervisory personnel should routinely check the temperature of metal slides to determine if they are safe to use. On a hot and sunny summer day, burns from metal can occur within a matter of seconds, especially on a young child’s tender skin.

Witham recommended that the track ride be removed in its entirety. “The track handle is missing and the overall condition of the remaining components is in question,” he said. Haas said the problem will be addressed later this year or during 2017.

Haas was also instructed to make modifications to the suspended stair platform to eliminate movement. The gaps between the steps can close suddenly and are obvious crush and shear elements that could cause serious injuries. Haas reported that this issue will be addressed in 2017, but that two other ramps have already been replaced. Rotting posts have also been repaired using filler.

The suspended chain climbing structure has also been removed due to rusting and component failure. Witham noted that the equipment was in such disrepair that it no longer provided any play value for children. The steering wheel on the “fire truck” has also been replaced, thereby eliminating entrapment or crushing/shearing injuries.

Work recommended to an electrical conduit in the area has already been completed, Haas said.

Selectman Bruce Breton said he feels that the results of Witham’s audit of Wonderland opens the town up to a lot of liability. “We need to budget for the repairs, somehow, Breton said. “ We can’t allow safety hazards to continue.” Chairman Joel Desilets said he’d like to see the remaining problems fixed in the next month or, if not, a closed sign posted until the issues are resolved. Vice-Chairman Ross McLeod noted that the more problems that are fixed, the lower the exposure to liability becomes. “We would be more able to defend ourselves if a lawsuit does happen,” McLeod continued. “There are some state statutes that grant immunity as long as there isn’t any gross negligence,” said McLeod, an attorney. “We need to get estimates, and then prioritize.”

Selectman Roger Hohenberger suggested putting up a sign that says “Play at Your Own Risk” and then commented that today’s society has become too litigious. “Children will still play there,” Hohenberger said, adding that he takes his own two grandchildren there to play. “They love it!” he said.

Selectmen will continue to be updated on the situation at Wonderland Playground as the repairs and renovations continue.