OCEAN CITY – The popular wooden playgrounds will not be returning to the beach this summer as city staff are in the midst of searching out safer replacements.
During a Recreation and Parks Committee meeting last Tuesday, Public Works Director Hal Adkins gave an update on the playground equipment that have been placed on the beach seasonally since the Mayor and City Council approved in 2000.
What is referred to as “beach toys” are five wooden playgrounds spaced out from Talbot Street north to 4th Street on the beach downtown. The toys were donated by several individuals and/or businesses, the latest being by Fisher’s Popcorn in 2005.
Adkins explained the condition of the beach toys has become a concern as they have aged over the years. The equipment is maintained on a daily basis during the summer season and examined thoroughly when they are stored at the airport during the off-season.
Adkins said the age of the equipment and the potential liabilities involved are major concerns. Additionally, he said they do not meet ADA (American with Disabilities Act) playground standards. Adkins added there are other unexpected uses that have raised concerns among staff.
“The fact is they are used for other activities in the late evening and early hours of the morning they weren’t designated for. We are cleaning them up on daily basis and we are questioning returning them to the beach this year,” Adkins said. “I think we all realize how often they are used. I am a father of four and I have used them over the years so I know it will result in a potential upset …”
Risk Manager Eric Lagstrom said he knows of three serious incidents involving the beach toys over the years, but he said the town was not held liable for them.
“I get calls from the police department often about children getting hurt and putting me on notice of it,” he said. “Could be from a protruding nail or screw, or a board is loose or something like that.”
Dealing with the potential decision to remove the beach toys from the beach, Adkins spoke with one of the donators, Greg Shockley of Shenanigans Irish Pub and Grille, and he explained if they were done away with the donators would be notified with the option to keep it personally or have the equipment sold and return the profits to the Recreation and Parks Boosters youth program.
“Which he thought was ideal,” Adkins said of Shockley.
Council President Lloyd Martin also recalled many years with his children spending time playing on the beach toys and asked about other playground alternatives to replace the beach toys.
“I would hate to see them go and not be replaced,” Councilman and Committee Chair Joe Mitrecic agreed. “They are 14 years old. The actual construction is going to stand up on the beach for only so long and I imagine they have been patching and gluing them for a long time.”
The committee directed Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster to research alternative beach toys that are ADA compliant.
“The playgrounds purchased were not intended for commercial playground equipment … and the principle concerns are obviously you want to have items that avoid entrapment and fall hazards and other damage hazards,” Shuster said. “These items were actually intended for residential use.”
A motion was made by Councilman Dennis Dare to not have the beach toys return to the beach this summer and offered to be returned to the donors. Also, the Recreation and Parks staff is directed to investigate the feasibility of providing commercial play equipment on the beach for 2013. The committee voted unanimously to approve.
During Monday evening’s Mayor and City Council legislative session, Mitrecic reported the discussion back to the full council.
“I would certainly hope we make every effort to establish some new beach toys for the summer of 2013,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “We are a can do community and I think that is something that we can do. I did go online and there are an awful lot of options out there of those types of equipment that kids can use, are approved, and are made to used and meet that kind of safety tests.”