In a unanimous vote at the April 5 City Council meeting, Hanford councilmembers chose to listen to their constituents and voted in favor of having the Endless Dreams playground area resurfaced in rubber as opposed to a wood fiber finish, which had previously been approved by the Recreations & Parks Commission and voted upon by council.
Workers at the playground, located in Freedom Park at 9 ¼ Avenue and E. Leland Way, began tearing up the old, worn rubber material in early March, as formerly approved by council. Residents took notice and immediately began protesting the move.
Two days later staff had work come to a halt after hearing many protests from Hanford residents.
At the following March 15 council meeting, several residents spoke during the public comment period, opposing wood fiber and requesting council to reconsider the rubber alternative, which will cost more.
Chris Soares said that the rubber material is easier for children with limited mobility to move around on, than wood chips. As a former fundraiser for the original playground equipment in the park, which was completed in 2007, she is adamant that it remain accessible to all children.
Others also spoke up in favor of the city spending the extra dollars to shy away from wood chipping and again utilize rubber material for everyone’s benefit.
When Endless Dreams became a possible realty as the larger picture, Freedom Park, was beginning to materialize, the Endless Dreams Trust was set up for donations to a playground equipped for all children of all ages, with and without disabilities. Soares was the instigator of that trust. Nearly $100,000 was donated to help the city pay for the close to $400,000 spent on the playground within the park, according to staff reports.
Following the March 15 council meeting, Soares set up an online petition at change.org, asking council to reconsider and resurface the playground with rubber material as it was originally.
The petition said, in part:
“In 2007, the Endless Dreams Playground at Freedom Park became a reality for ALL citizens, able and disabled. The fully accessible park was built entirely on private donations. It was meant to serve children with disabilities and their families.
Two years ago, the city of Hanford initiated a capital park improvement plan for all city parks which included a project to remove the aging rubber surface of the Endless Dreams Playground and replace it with wood chips. It was a ‘cost saving measure.’”
Prior to the April 5 meeting, the petition had 1,031 signatures.
“I am very overwhelmed by the response,” said Soares, who works at a local school.
“I had a parent tell me, today,” she said, “that they travel to the park because of the beauty of it and accessibility of it.”
“We raised over $100,000 and built that structure with a ‘freedom’ of boundaries and ‘freedom’ [received] from the military forces, which we have so many of here.”
At the April 5 meeting, many residents again spoke in favor of the rubber matting.
On the agenda, staff reported on recent meetings and review of the matter and asked council to choose either the wood fiber chipping at the cost of $35,000 or rubber matting at approximately $80,000 more. Staff recommended that if the rubber was chosen, that it be laid in one color only as many of the deterioration problems seemed to have resulted from the seaming of more than one color.
Department of Parks & Recreation Director Craig Miller emphasized that it was never the intent of the staff to snub those who had donated to the park in the past, or to demean the park of the residents in any way. It was simply the intent to save funds.
Staff advised that council realize that rubber surfacing still comes with a five-year warranty, as it did originally. Council should also realize that every 7-10 years the rubber will need an approximate $110,000 to grind it down an inch.
John Doyle, deputy public works director, suggested council develop a Department of Parks and Recreation Equipment Replacement Fund, so the budget would be prepared for the expense in advance. The original motion was amended before the 5-0 vote.
Workers will return to the park to renovate the new rubber surfacing soon.