OC Struggling With Beach Playground Issue

OCEAN CITY – The replacement of playground equipment on the beach will not be happening this summer as the town will need at least another year to come up with a solution.

Ocean City Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito said this week, officially the review of the beach toys is included in the town’s Strategic Plan, but the identified time line for resolution is slated for next year.

In April of 2013, the Recreation and Parks Commission agreed to not have the wooden playground structures, referred to as beach toys, return to the beach off the Boardwalk that summer once staff brought to their attention how the structures have become safety hazards as well as a nuisance with late-night shenanigans.

Once that decision was finalized, many residents and visitors voiced concerns over not having the playgrounds on the beach as they have become a tradition for Boardwalk and beach-goers.

The beach toys that once stood on the beach were all purchased and donated by local businesses. At that time, Bill Gibbs, owner of the Dough Roller Restaurants, pointed out several Boardwalk businesses were potential donors but questioned the town’s contribution. Mayor Rick Meehan felt there was some way for the town to match the money raised by donors to serve as some sort of leverage for property owner interest in bringing beach toys back.

With the town just going through a stringent budget process, the question remained how exactly the replacement beach toys would be funded.

During the Recreation and Parks Commission meeting in May of 2013, former Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster presented a list of 13 replacement options ranging in the price from $5,900 to $50,000.

Shuster had a preliminary meeting with City Engineer Terry McGean and Public Works Director Hal Adkins to narrow down the list in what would meet state requirements, and what they thought would be practical to move off and on the beach for maintenance and storage as well as the best for sanitary conditions.

The choices that stood out to the commission were different brands of playground climbing equipment built to represent boulders. Other options included a large pirate ship weighing over 22,000 pounds and a playground shaped into a turtle that were both partially enclosed.

Three companies that Shuster presented that provide the boulder shaped commercial playground equipment were Playcore Company’s Everlast Climbing NatureROCKS Sandstone Set, Playworld System’s Origins Boulders and Ropes and Little Tikes Fun Rocks.

For example, the NatureROCKS Sandstone Set is designed and hand painted to resemble real sandstone. The set includes a small, medium and large boulder, each offering a variety of climbing options that will engage children of all ages. Nature Rocks are constructed of Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete for durability and longevity.

The commission directed staff to cut down the list to potential boulder playground equipment to present to the Mayor and City Council, along with a list of interested donors, and costs and turnaround time of the different products. There has not been a formal discussion over the matter since then.

Petito explained this week the Beach Playground Equipment replacement has been included as a high priority action item in the town’s Strategic Plan.  Having been newly tasked with the evaluation of this issue, she has been listing key issues, milestones and a time table to appropriately address the request in the plan, and hopes to have a recommendation to the Mayor and City Council in early 2015.

“Playground safety standards are the tightest they’ve ever been and it is my understanding that any structure installed on the beach must be temporary,” Petito stated. “Finding compliant play structures that are not too heavy to remove each season and that can be installed without permanency is a huge challenge and not one to be rushed into. “

Petito has initiated discussions with key employees from Public Works, Recreation and Parks, Engineering and Risk Management, all of whom have concerns about the potential beach structures, but are willing to join in brainstorming for solutions.

“Compliancy, practicality, safety, use and misuse practices, liability and funding are all factors which must be seriously considered. Simply replacing the previous ‘backyard’ type structures, though much-loved by their users, is no longer a practical option for the town,” she said.