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Town Talk

Original Article Link: http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/town_talk/tags/eco-turf/

Posted by Chad Lawhorn on July 30, 2015 at 11:08 a.m.

Look for some changes at a couple of Lawrence playgrounds. The city is set to spend about $85,000 to put in a rubberized play surface for the playgrounds at the East Lawrence Center and at Watson Park.

It may be the first of several such project that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department undertakes. Changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2012 created new requirements for playground surfaces to make them more accessible to people with disabilities.

The new rubberized surface is expected to be a lot easier for folks who use wheelchairs, walkers and other devices than the current wood-chip surface that exists at most city playgrounds.

“The wood chips have to be really compacted to work well,” said Mark Hecker, the city’s assistant director of parks and recreation.

But figuring out how to pay for a surface upgrade to every city playground may be difficult. The city has 35 playgrounds across the community. Hecker said his initial goal is to try to get six or seven playground surfaces replaced in the next few years. He plans to choose playgrounds in different geographic areas of town to increase the odds that everyone will have relatively easy access to at least one of the newly surfaced playgrounds.

Cost is an issue, though. The city spends about $3,000 to $4,000 to put wood chips in a playground area, and then probably another $1,000 a year to ensure the playgrounds continue to have enough wood chips in place. Based on these most recent prices, the rubberized surface is costing a little more than $40,000 a playground. Hecker expects the rubberized surfaces to last for 15 years or more.

Whether the city will get pressure to become more aggressive to replace the wood chip surfaces with the more ADA-complaint rubberized material is unclear. Thus far, Hecker said the department has been working with local ADA advocates, and they have been understanding that the city will likely have to tackle the issue in phases.

“They just want us to keep moving forward,” Hecker said.

As for the material, it is coming from a Kansas City-based company called Eco Turf. Hecker said the department is still in discussions about the exact product they’ll install. Hecker said the city wants to install some brightly colored material rather than the more traditional brown or black. The city also looked at a product that looked like grass, but Hecker said it was less certain how it would withstand the wear and tear of a playground.

An example of a rubberized playground surface, as shown on the Eco Turf web site.

An example of a rubberized playground surface, as shown on the Eco Turf web site. by Chad Lawhorn

Other parks that may get consideration for upgrades include high-usage playgrounds at South Park, Holcom Park and Centennial Park, Hecker said. Some of those parks also are due for replacement of playground equipment.

“We may find ourselves in a situation where we spend $30,000 on playground equipment and $35,000 on surfacing,” Hecker said. “That’s where it can get a little tricky from a financial standpoint.”