Whether the recently closed playground at Joe Rowell Park in Dolores should be restored or replaced depends on the conclusions of an upcoming inspection, the town board said Monday during a workshop attended by about 50 residents.
The town is seeking a playground engineer to inspect the popular Ron Kotarski Memorial playground, which was closed suddenly by the town on Sept. 11 after a tour highlighted its deficiencies.
“Will it come down? I hope not. Can it be repaired? I hope so,” said Mayor Santiago Lopez. “But if it has to come down, it must be replaced.”
Board members said they closed the playground for public safety concerns after a review with the town maintenance staff showed the wood has deteriorated and the structural posts have rotted. Lopez said the structure is unstable, and he displayed large splinters he recovered during a site tour “that could injure a child.”
The board has not reported any accident attributed to the playground’s condition. The town’s insurance company has continued to cover the playground, they said, but has noted some deterioration.
Town Manager Lana Hancock said the town has contacted three companies for the inspection and cost assessment of repairs, and one will be chosen soon. The companies are Play by Design, Leathers and Associations, which originally built the playground, and SGM Inc.
The playground was installed in 2001 as a “community build” project funded in part by a $100,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. Hundreds of volunteers assisted Leathers and Associates during construction of the mostly wood playground, which features distinct towers and multiple play features.
Town grant writer Chris Burkett explained that the playground is under a 20-year contract with GOCO as part of the grant agreement. To remove it would require GOCO review and approval.
“They would like to see the inspection report,” he said.
Burkett said GOCO has informed the town that it is still eligible for grants for a new playground if it is determined the playground needs to be removed before the contract expires. Wood structures don’t necessarily have a 20-year lifespan, Burkett said, and there is an application process to shorten the contract with an indication to rebuild.
“The downside is the deadline for the next grant cycle is Nov. 7, so there is not much time to put the assessment together, then apply this year,” he said.
GOCO grants require a 40 percent match from the community – 25 percent in cash and 15 percent in in-kind services.
‘We did it together’During the public comment period there was strong support for having a playground in Joe Rowell Park, and repairing the current one was seen by many a good solution. But board members said they want to see what the inspection and assessment report shows before deciding on restoration or a rebuild.
“By repairing it in phases, we could keep part of it open,” said resident Nikki Gillespie.
Gina Kotarski said she first organized the playground project to fill a need in the town, and it also became a memorial to her late husband, Ron. She said the time has come to repeat the effort that first built the playground so that it can be saved.
“We did it together, and it is entirely possible for us to do it again,” she said. Leathers and Associates should be involved in the future of the playground, Kotarski said, “because they make communities work together” and are familiar with the structure.
Once the playground is repaired, she said, the town should start an annual repair day, in which volunteers and town staff work on improvements.
Deanna Sullivan and others suggested re-enforcing sections that have deteriorated with synthetic wood or products that are more durable. “Most anything can be fixed, and a lot of people are interested in volunteering to get it back open,” said retired builder Gary Clicker.
“Let’s look for a solution to keep it functioning until it has to be replaced.”
Keeping the original look of the playground with its castle towers, stairs, decks, bridges and runways was also important for some in the audience.
“I take my grandkids to different playgrounds, but the one in Dolores is their favorite,” said a local grandmother. “Let’s keep our playground and not build some giant plastic thing.”
It was noted that a new playground could incorporate the same style, but be made with more durable materials such as metal and plastic.
The current playground base of wood chips is outdated, Burkett added, because it must be fluffed regularly to be most effective. Modern playgrounds have a rubber floor that requires less maintenance.
“My best memories are on that playground,” said youngster Rosie LeCompte.
“Why not try and repair it? If it needs replaced, use the right materials and get Dolores kids to give ideas because we have brilliant ideas.”
Public wants more informationBoard members stood by their unanimous decision to close the playground and said safety concerns had been discussed at regular meetings, which are not well attended by the public.
Some audience members felt the decision was too sudden and that more communication to residents is needed on town issues and in advance of major decisions.
“The lack of information has been a source of frustration for the public,” said resident Brad Pietruszka.
Dolores town board member Tracy Murphy suggested the town start an online feed that regularly provides information on town business. A small committee could be formed to oversee content.
“Nobody could comment on it; it would just be for information,” she said.
More town information on the town website such as agendas of upcoming meetings were also advocated.
“With more transparency, you get more cooperation and less conflict,” said resident Jen Stark.
Board member Izzy Boyce said that “more people should come to the meetings if they have something to say, rather than just commenting on Facebook.”
The board is expected to choose an inspector at its Oct. 10 meeting, but some in the crowd urged the choice be made earlier so the inspection could be completed in time for the town to apply for a GOCO grant, if needed, before the Nov. 7 deadline.
“We will do what we can to move forward, whether it is repairing the playground or replacing it,” said Lopez, at the conclusion of the three-hour meeting.
A volunteer effort is underway to help raise funds for the playground and organize possible labor assistance.
A Save the Playground meeting has been scheduled for Sept. 28, at the Dolores River Campground meeting room at 6 p.m.
The campground is off Colorado Highway 145, just east of Dolores.