WALLINGFORD — Town officials addressed a report with Town Council members last week that pointed out potential safety hazards at town-owned properties. Rather than provide answers, the review of the report, compiled by the Building Maintenance Committee in August, seemed to raise more questions as well as frustration.
At the request of Councilor Craig Fishbein, Tuesday's Town Council meeting was attended by Parks and Recreation officials and the town's risk manager to discuss safety issues from the report. Those issues included parks that have come under scrutiny for almost a year after the playground equipment at Doolittle Park was burned down in October of last year.
Fishbein specifically wanted to discuss the report with the town's risk manager, Kurt Treiber, who is certified in playground safety.
Fishbein pointed out several of the slides the Building Maintenance Committee presented as problem areas, including handicapped ramps at Wallace Park that they felt were inappropriately placed because it required crossing a grass area to get to a ramp, which is about 30 feet from the sidewalk.
“Is that what is supposed to happen here?” Fishbein asked. “I could see someone in a wheelchair taking offense and it’s not funny. Inviting someone into a play area, it’s like dangling something in front of someone’s face. It’s virtually impossible for someone to traverse the grass area to get to these ramps. It’s uneven grass to begin with.”
“It appears to be installed the way the manufacturer designed it,” Treiber said. “I am not an ADA trained individual. The only time I get involved in ADA as it pertains to playgrounds is a very limited scope.”
There is a three-pronged approach to handicapped access, he said. The first is an access path requirement if coming from a building or a parking lot, he said, “so this park does not meet this requirement.”
The second is an accessible spot to enter the playground, he said, which the ramps provide so that requirement is met. The third requires a suitable material used for wheelchair accessibility, which also is met.
“This particular playground has been in existence long before my time. I don’t view it as an ADA playground, it was never designed that way from what I can tell. What was trying to be accomplished was an upgrading of safety surfacing,” he said, adding that the surfacing is also used in two other town parks. “These ramps are merely allowing access into the play area.”
Fishbein also expressed concern about large cracks in the basketball court at Grand Street Park and similar cracks at Doolittle Park, which could cause tripping. But Treiber said he is only tasked with addressing playground equipment, “not fields, not basketball courts, none of those things come under that jurisdictional inspection for playground safety inspections.”
Fishbein asked, “So when it is represented to us that there are no safety concerns at the parks, that is excluding basketball courts, soccer fields, baseball fields, all of that stuff?” Treiber said that’s correct.
Parks and Recreation Director Kenny Michaels said work to repair the cracks at Doolittle Park is slated to begin within a week or two. They also are waiting for delivery of a cap that goes on a seesaw that covers bolts that protrude from the surface.
“I appreciate that,” Fishbein said. “I’m very distressed over the representation that our parks are safe when there are safety issues and what I’m hearing tonight as to what the representations are as to what is safe and what is not safe.”
Some issues highlighted in the report, such as washed out ground surfaces under picnic benches at Doolittle Park, are maintenance issues, Treiber said.
“It’s not something as a playground inspector that I would be looking at,” he said. “I would be looking at it more from a risk manager standpoint.”
Treiber said he conducts inspections annually accompanied by Parks and Recreation staff, but he does not issue a report on the inspections.
Building Maintenance Committee Chairman Jason Michael was not happy with the town’s response to the committee’s report.
“In the efforts to keep decorum in the room, I’m going to keep this brief,” he said at the end of the discussion. “I have found some of the answers here tonight to be, at best, disingenuous. I’ve seen every inch of every park that we took pictures of.
“As I speak, Lufbery Park has a playground with zero fall protection, rock-hard hardpan under two and a half foot falls under a slide. If that’s not a safety issue, please correct me. I’m no expert, I’m the first to admit it. But that’s just one example. It’s sitting here now and it’s been that way for years. I’ll leave it at that.”
Building Maintenance Committee member Gabriel Ramos said he has more than 40 years’ experience working in the field of safety professionally. He said the town needs to take the committee’s report seriously and address the issues pointed out.
“When I started on this committee, I said our purpose, from my experience, is to weed out the trivial many from the critical few. So what we present to you is something we could not wrap our head around,” he said.
“Safety is a mindset,” he said. “It should be in everybody’s mind. Everybody should be responsible for safety conditions. If you see something, say something.”
After the Building Maintenance Committee presented its report to the council in August, Fishbein said there were things he felt warranted a discussion with town officials. But that didn’t happen until Tuesday, after the last council meeting when Fishbein criticized the administration for not addressing the issues with the council.
“Initially I was a little concerned because this item was on the agenda for Sept. 12, and you hadn’t been apparently given a copy of the presentation by that date,” Fishbein told Treiber. At that meeting, Fishbein initially requested the discussion with Treiber, but the risk manager was unable to attend that meeting, prompting Fishbein’s concern that town officials weren’t taking the report seriously enough.