Vandalism and lack of funding hampers local parks

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Taken as a whole, Winters parks are well maintained. The lawns are green and well manicured, the trees are tall and healthy, but the city faces a battle maintaining the play structures. Other than City Park, the undeniable jewel of the Winters playgrounds, most of the other parks are older and often vandalized. The playground in El Rio Villas had to be removed after several of the structure’s components were broken. As the adults search for replacement parts and funding, children are left with few options. Play structures, like the ones in Blue Oak Park, Walnut Park, Valley Oak Park and City Park, serve a purpose by meeting children’s need to be physically and socially challenged while also bringing community members together. The City of Winters and the community have risen to task of providing local children with engaging playgrounds, but but these structures come with high price tags along with the cost of yearly repairs. City Manager John Donlevy says that the current playgrounds at Blue Oak Park and Valley Oak Park are not in danger of falling apart with age, but have often been vandalized to the point of destruction. As he breaks it down, the parks are well maintained 99 percent of the time, and only vandalized one percent of the time. It’s the one percent that can make a park unuseable. A broken swing set or a shattered slide can create potential safety hazards for children, followed by a costly repair for the city. Often the best solution is for the city to swallow the cost of securing the expensive replacement part, because replacing the entire playground with an updated design is out of the budget. Just east of Winters in El Rio Villas, a Yolo Housing development, the cost and the difficulty of finding replacement parts was so high that the development has been without a playground for close to four months. Lisa Baker, chief executive officer of Yolo County Housing, said that the process began with them initially removed the swing set and later the slide. While searching for potential replacements, Baker said that they soon found that the necessary parts were not available. They were no longer able to maintain the park. “In order to protect the safety of children, we were forced to remove the playground in order to prevent injury,” Baker says.   There are plans to replace the missing playground with the input of a design review committee made up of residents. The greatest impediment is a lack of funding. “We have been able to budget approximately 50 percent of the replacement cost,” Baker says, “but we are seeking funds to help us find the remaining balance.” “We are hoping that a service club or organization will partner with us in this much needed community benefit,” Baker adds. Winters was able to complete the new City Park with the help of Project Playground and a massive volunteer effort, and it resulted in a playground that draws visitors from cities throughout the region. “Without question City Park is a destination for people from all over,” Donlevy says. Nick Acosta has been driving into town twice a week to visit City Park with his 5-year-old son for years. “He really likes coming to the park,” Acosta says. “We have been to Blue Oak Park a few times, but it’s kind of run down so we choose to come to this park because it’s much nicer–more to do and better shade.” Natalie Zentner, a resident of Esparto, picks up her grandson in Woodland and brings him to the Winters City Park three times a week. “This is the park he likes,” Zentner says. They used to visit a Woodland park, but her grandson kept asking to go back to Winters. “This park here has a more to offer,” she says. On another day, Fernando Gutierez, a Winters local, was visiting City Park with his daughter. Gutierez says that City Park is the easiest one to visit with his family. He recalls that Blue Oak Park has been vandalized, and Valley Oak doesn’t have a bathroom. According to Donlevy, maintaining public restrooms is one of the most difficult aspects of park maintenance. The bathrooms are often vandalized, and so many visitors throughout a day it can be difficult to keep the bathrooms supplied with necessities like soap and toilet paper. The cost of maintaining the level of cleanliness that people expect from other public bathrooms is too high for the city to attempt. Faced with the thankless task of replacing playground pieces year after year, the city is now looking to design parks that are long lasting and vandal-proof. This includes making visually beautiful, engaging and sturdy parks. Donlevy says that plastic parks have become less desirable, not only for aesthetics, but also for their apparent lack of longevity. Especially now that the City Park has been updated, he believes, nobody is going to be excited by a new park made of plastic. These sensibilities can be seen in Walnut Park’s design. Walnut Park was built with a concrete slide after the plastic slide in Blue Oak Park was shattered. Donlevy says the city is interested in creating playgrounds that can challenge children physically, mentally and socially. The future Three Oaks Park in Stone’s Throw Development is going to be,“very open and visual for kids,” he says.   After the design is finalized, vandalism contingency plans are made and the funding is secured, in the end it is the children who will benefit from access to safe and engaging parks. While parents can make decisions based on a park’s usability, sun cover and bathroom options, young children just need somewhere to play. ]]>

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Correction: October 4, 2018

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