D.C.: Seven playgrounds have 'high' safety risk

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Zoom in to see ratings for playgrounds in your neighborhood, or see the complete list of ratings in the spreadsheet embedded below this story. Map by Jennifer Peebles/Examiner

Local,DC,Alan Blinder

District officials said Tuesday that they have classified seven public playgrounds as having a "high probability of injury" for children playing there and that those areas will be prioritized for improvements as the city begins a $30 million effort to renovate recreation areas.

"They're in terrible shape," said Jesus Aguirre, director of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. "When we find things, we try to address them, but it's really gotten to the point where we need to re-do them completely."

Aguirre said that although the District monitors emergency calls to its playgrounds, an abundance of crises at specific facilities did not prompt the safety review.

Instead, Aguirre said Mayor Vincent Gray's strategy to overhaul 32 playgrounds in the 2013 fiscal year spurred the analysis, which the city conducted using a scorecard that identified potential safety threats. (See the overall scores for 24 playgrounds in the embedded spreadsheet below this story.)

"Our playgrounds have pretty much been neglected."
-- Yvette Alexander, D.C. Councilwoman

The District will prioritize playgrounds for upgrades based on the safety scores as well as an evaluation of how many youth live near the facility.

The safety review found the seven riskiest playgrounds are spread throughout the District -- they are located in Wards 1, 3, 5, 7 and 8 -- but three are east of the Anacostia River, home to the District's poorest neighborhoods.

City officials said the Benning Park playground, which they found had barriers made of plywood, missing bolts and broken swings, had the highest potential for injury.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander said she thought the unsafe conditions were keeping residents from using the playground.

"Our playgrounds have pretty much been neglected," Alexander said. "I haven't even seen anyone playing on a playground recently. When I was younger, we always had playgrounds everywhere, but now I notice the kids don't play on the playgrounds."

District officials have been staging community meetings since mid-November to gather public input ahead of the renovations, and 18 more are scheduled.

Although the District analyzed only 24 of its 78 playgrounds in its first round of scores, city officials said more reviews are planned. Every District playground ultimately will be reviewed every two years.

"We have another 20 to 30 playgrounds that haven't been touched in the last 10 years and are going to be assessed," said Aguirre, who stressed that city's renovation program will take years.

The first upgrades are slated to begin later this winter, and city officials are planning to finish construction by summer 2013.

Follow all of Alan Blinder's reports on D.C. government. Follow him on Twitter at @alanblinder and have his latest stories emailed to you each morning in our Local News e-newsletter. Email Alan at ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner