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To Meet Accessibility Standards, Windsor to Close 40 Playgrounds

Tristin Hopper 
Jul 1, 2011 – 2:45 PM ET | Last Updated: Jul 1, 2011 2:52 PM ET

To afford accessible playgrounds, Windsor, Ont. is choosing to have less playgrounds.

By 2025 all public Ontario playgrounds are obligated to meet standards laid out in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Due to the “massive impact” the specialized equipment will have on Windsor’s playground budget, 40 of the city’s 180 playgrounds will need to be phased out to cover the cost, says a recently-released report by the City of Windsor.

Traditional playground units cost anywhere from $38,000 to $48,000. Accessible playgrounds, on the other hand, can run between $100,000 to $220,000, says the report. Currently, upwards of 95 per cent of the city’s playgrounds are not considered accessible.

Municipalities typically replace playground equipment every 12 to 18 years. Windsor’s 40 phased-out playgrounds will not be torn down immediately. Rather, when their time for replacement comes due, they will simply be dismantled.

Windsor’s playground belt-tightening only affects “little tiny pocket playgrounds that are becoming obsolete anyway,” says Rolf Huber, president of Canadian Playground Advisory Inc., a Mississauga-based playground consulting firm. The playground dynamic is changing, he says. Instead of sending their kids out the door to frequent small, neighbourhood swingsets, modern parents are more likely to take them to quarter-million-dollar “destination playgrounds.”

Under Ontario’s 2025 accessibility standards, at least 50 per cent of “elevated” surfaces in a play structure will have to be accessible to a child in a
wheelchair. “Now, we don’t want the public thinking, ‘holy crap, we’re just going to buy nothing but ramps,’” says Mr. Huber, who notes that an elevated
platform connected to the ground by a system of handholds counts as accessible. Similarly, accessible playgrounds will not spell the end of blatantly non-wheelchair-friendly structures such as jungle gyms and climbing walls.

Where accessible playgrounds get expensive is in the surfacing. Instead of just sprinkling playgrounds with a couple hundred dollars worth of wood chips or pea gravel, accessible playgrounds require thick, rubber surfacing costing anywhere from $16 to $20 per square foot. Taking into account the maintenance demands of wood chips or pea gravel, however, Mr. Huber notes that the rubber surfacing may actually save money over the long term.

Playgrounds – and especially playground removal –  is a touchy subject for Canadians. In Kingston, officials have staunchly refused to follow the Windsor model of phasing out smaller playgrounds. Instead, the city has just poured more money into their playground budget. “We’re not eroding the standard level of play service,” says Neal Unsworth, manager of parks development for the City of Kingston. “It costs a bit more, but it’s worth it.”

“Canadians are serious about play,” says Mr. Huber. “We’re covetous of that little tiny playground down the street even though our kids are never playing
on it,” he says.

Torontonians have been on guard for playgrounds ever since 2000, when, just before the start of the school year, the Toronto school board tore down $27
million worth of play equipment after it was found to be “unsafe” under a new set of voluntary playground safety guidelines. Thousands of Toronto children arrived for the first day of school only to find themselves spending recess on patches of dirt where playground equipment had once stood.

Until they wear out, none of Ontario’s inaccessible playgrounds will be torn down – even if they remain standing beyond 2025.

National Post, with files from Dalson Chen, Windsor Star

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