OCEAN CITY — Ocean City officials this week approved a play structure for the beach at Somerset Street with “Wally the Whale” emerging, literally and figuratively, from the narrowed-down list of options.
The Mayor and Council on Tuesday approved “Wally the Whale” as the newest addition to the downtown beach at Somerset Street adjacent to the Boardwalk area. The play structure includes a whale’s head emerging from the sand on one end and its tail protruding from the beach on the other end. It includes barnacle-like fixtures on the head and tail allowing kids, and presumably adults, to climb on the structure.
In 2013, the town removed the long-standing wooden playground equipment, or “beach toys,” for a variety of reasons including potential safety hazards and some of the late night activities by some for whom the toys were not intended. In the two years since, the town has wrestled with replacing the beach toys from a financial and practical standpoint.
Two years ago, the newest addition was the dinosaur bones structure at 3rd Street, which became an Internet sensation last fall when Mayor Rick Meehan’s pictures of the bones emerging from the sand during Hurricane Joaquin and the associated Nor’easter went viral. The dinosaur bones structure has appeared to achieve the desired results, but the town continued to seek more beach play structures.
While all agree the beach toys offer a nice alternative and free amenity for families on the beach and Boardwalk, replacing the decades-old equipment has been challenging. To that end, the Recreation and Parks Committee last fall put out a request for proposal with a budget of around $26,000. What came back were six proposals from three companies, each with their own pros and cons.
The play structures will have to be removed each fall and reinstalled each spring due to state building limit line laws on the beach and from a safety and practicality standpoint. The new structure will also have to endure often less than optimal conditions with the salt air and wind-blown sand, for example.
“In addition to having challenges with our environment, it has to come off the beach each year,” said Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito. “Anything new will have to be removed and re-installed each season.”
The Recreation and Parks Committee reviewed the proposals and winnowed the list to three preferred alternatives, which they presented to the Mayor and Council for approval on Tuesday. One of the proposals featured a jungle gym-type set-up in the form of a sea turtle with slides, ladders and climbing features. A second alternative called the “Jupiter” featured a cable-tension net-climbing structure.
In the end, “Wally the Whale” was chosen for a variety of reasons, including its aesthetic value, the practicality of removing it and storing and the relative ease with which the Public Works Department can clean the beach around it.
“It fits the beach scene and will be ideal to play on, but won’t have kids and families staying for hours because we want them back on the Boardwalk and all that has to offer,” said Petito. “It also offers a less complicated removal and could be stored easily. In addition, it’s just cute and could lend itself to a unique photo opp.”
After some debate, Councilman and Recreation and Parks Committee member Wayne Hartman made a motion to approve the whale play structure, which could be in place by mid-May.
“The others might seem like a better value up front, but the maintenance will make up the costs in the long term,” he said.
The whale structure came in just under the $26,000 budgeted and its cost could be augmented through a private-public partnership. Throughout the last year, several companies and individuals have come in with donations totaling $4,500, including $2,000 from Greg Shockley and Shenanigans, $1,000 from Tow Boat US, $500 from the OCDC and $500 each from Councilman Doug Cymek and former Councilman Brett Ashley.