Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007

Parents worry Elm Street playground could become nightmare

Chevy Chase looks forward to fixes to aging play set

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Staying away from the caution tape around a wooden bridge playground structure, Raymond Huke, 22 months, of Bethesda plays in Leland Neighborhood Park’s playground Friday morning.
With yellow ‘‘CAUTION” tape wrapped around a wooden bridge, a playground in the Town of Chevy Chase resembled a crime scene Friday morning. The culprit was aging playground equipment.

Parents say it’s time to give the playground in Leland Neighborhood Park on Elm Street a facelift. The wood is decaying, the screws are rusted and consequently the park’s popularity is waning, parents said. With a growing number of young families moving into the town, parents anxiously await playground renovations.

‘‘This is our neighborhood gathering place, and we would like it to be nice,” said Susan Milner, a town resident who helped organize a grassroots renovation effort at Norwood Local Park.

Parents asked the Town Council this month for upgrades and volunteered to pitch in money for improvements.

But the town doesn’t have control over the playground; Leland belongs to the county.

Under county ownership, the playground is slated for renovation — just not in the immediate future. It is scheduled for updates in fiscal 2009, which begins July 1. The Willard Avenue playground on River Road in Bethesda is scheduled for renovation at the same time.

The Leland Recreation Center was built in 1989 and the playground’s equipment was last redone in the 1990s.

Usually the playground equipment would be expected to last 20 years.

But because of some equipment ‘‘falling apart” and ‘‘safety issues that weren’t a concern when we put it in, we are doing it in 2009,” said Kathy Dearstine of the parks department.

Dearstine said the county hopes to install a couple of new play pieces so the park ‘‘will have some play value until we do a total renovation.” Among those new pieces will be ‘‘climbers” — metal poles, spirals or ladders — to replace the unsafe wooden bridge.

The total renovation process starts next July with a community meeting between residents and Dearstine. Public input goes into the construction plan and helps guide Dearstine’s choice when she orders equipment.

‘‘The community will definitely get input as to what they want,” Dearstine said.

Milner said the Leland playground ‘‘seems like it’s gotten really bad really fast” but that it’s ‘‘not in horrible shape.”

‘‘If nothing else, we’d like to have input on what happens,” she said.

‘‘I know that people are really concerned, and they consider it their local playground,” said Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Linna Barnes.

Deborah Borkowski, a mother of two, told the Town Council during a public hearing Nov. 7 that 15 mothers replied to an e-mail she sent regarding the playground’s ‘‘appalling” conditions.

She said 22 residents signed a letter in support of fixing the playground.

The town’s requests don’t have to come from the Town Council. Civic associations and residents are usually the people offering input, Dearstine said.

The county’s playground safety inspector checks Leland every 90 days, Dearstine said. Two staffers go around to playgrounds making repairs on equipment and shutting down structures that are a ‘‘major hazard” until new parts can be ordered.

The county tackles 10 to 12 playground renovations per year, ripping out old equipment and replacing it with shiny new toys designed for toddlers to pre-teens, Dearstine said.

The improvements cost about $60,000 and are expected to last about 20 years.

Milner said she’d love to see the renovation sped up.

‘‘But we understand we have to wait in line with everyone else.”