Inspector says concerns exist about school playground safety

Inspector says concerns exist about school playground safety »Play Video
Ed Davis of Precision Recreation Contractors points out a playground with rotten wood at Whitman Elementary School to KATU's Erica Nochlin.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In response to questions, a Portland Public Schools spokesperson said playground safety is not an issue, and any dangerous equipment would be removed immediately, but a certified safety inspector told KATU News that safety concerns do exist.

“We haven’t seen a structure collapse, usually we’re there before that takes place, but some of these old wooden structures are rotten at the bottom,” Ed Davis, of Precision Recreation Contractors, said.

Davis contracts with the district to install new playgrounds.

“When you get 30 kids running around on a structure, it could be a potential problem,” he said.

Davis also found a broken wood border and sharp metal sticking through a tire on an old structure at Whitman Elementary School. While he just installed a new structure at that school, the old one is still available for kids to play on.

“To me, this should have been removed probably five years ago,” Davis said about the torn tire.

KATU brought that example to the Director of Project Management for Portland Public Schools, Randy Miller, who said he will look into getting the tire removed. He continues to stand firm that even old structures are safe.

“The question is: is the equipment usable? Is it safe?” Miller said. “And the answer is yes.”

Portland Public Schools does not pay for new playgrounds, although the district has policies about new structures. For example, new playgrounds must have rubber surfaces instead of wood-fiber chips.

It’s up to community fundraising and grants to come up with the $5,000 to well over $100,000 that it can cost to get a new playground.

Even Davis realizes that’s not always realistic.

“If you go out to the school district and take every structure down you think is a potential problem, then the kids don’t have anything,” he said. “But it takes a lot of bake sales, a lot of auctions, and a lot of hard work to raise the money to build one of these.”

Miller said every playground in the district is inspected at least once a year and custodians keep an eye out for problems daily. The district keeps a list of wood-framed playgrounds that have not been upgraded recently but has not yet filled KATU News’ request to see that list.

As for future upgrades, Miller said the district will work with the community.

“If they want to offer up resources to replace that equipment, we encourage that,” Miller said. “That’s better for our kids.”