Dolores board votes to close playground at Joe Rowell Park

Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017 6:26 PM
The Ron Kotarski playground at Joe Rowell Park was built by the community in 2001. But because of its deteriorating state, the town board voted to close it down.
Dolores town staff and board members on Monday toured the playground of Joe Rowell park to assess its condition. From right are board member James Biard, maintenance supervisor Randy McGuire, board member Tracy Murphy, board member Val Truelsen, Mayor Santiago Lopez and deputy clerk Ann Swope.
Local kids found themselves locked out of the playground at Joe Rowell Park on Tuesday. The Dolores Town Board voted to close it because of safety concerns.

After an emotional discussion, the Dolores Town Board voted unanimously Monday to immediately close the popular playground at Joe Rowell Park, citing safety concerns.

“From far away, it looks good, but when you get a closer look it is scary,” said Dolores Mayor Santiago Lopez.

During a board tour of the 16-year old playground, maintenance supervisor Randy McGuire expressed concerns about the playground structure, including unstable support posts, damaged wood, split beams and splinters.

“The wood grain is separating, and the posts are rotting underground,” he said.

McGuire said keeping up with maintenance has been a challenge because the wood materials used to build the playground are not holding up in the weather.

“A lot of it needs replaced,” he said. “We’ve been doing regular repairs for years, but there is only so much you can do. In my mind, it is hazardous.”

Town Manager Lana Hancock said the town’s insurance company has also expressed safety concerns, and town attorney Mike Green said the playground’s deteriorated state is a potential liability risk to the town.

“I don’t want to see any kid get hurt,” said board member Izzy Boyce.

Parent Molly Cooper, who regularly takes her kids to the playground,urged the board to table the matter to allow time for a solution and to gather more community input.

A recently formed group called Save Our Playground is meeting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 28 at the Dolores River Campground to address the issue.

“What is the harm in waiting two weeks before making a decision so others can be a part of the conversation?” she said. “I don’t feel there is an immediate need to close it down. Working with the community, I believe, we can find a solution.”

The board clearly struggled with the decision. Some initially said they needed more time and information and did not see the problems as an immediate threat.

“I’d like to know how other communities with similar playgrounds dealt with maintenance issues,” said board member Tracy Murphy.

But after hearing safety concerns from town staff, the board became convinced that closing the playground was necessary.

“It’s a heart-wrenching decision,” said Lopez. “It is a proactive stance to protect the children.”

The town board expressed general support for having some sort of playground in Joe Rowell Park, but wanted to look into the cost of repairing the current one or replacing it.

“We need to make a commitment to correct the problems or replace it as soon as possible,” said Murphy.

The playground was built in 2001 as a memorial to Ron Kotarski. It was funded in part by a $100,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, and built with the help of community members over several days.

“Please don’t demolish it without a plan for a new one because there is enough support in the community to save the playground,” Cooper said.

In the next few days, the town plans to close the playground off by surrounding it with a chain-link fence.

The future of the playground will also be a topic at the Dolores Town Board workshop at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 25.