*This article has been updated to include the Department of General Services’ action plan to repair the playground equipment.
The electric blue slide at the Kennedy Recreation Center playground was a beloved piece of equipment for kids in the Shaw neighborhood. Now it’s simply a broken down, dangerous pile of plastic and bolts boarded up with wooden planks.
Jennifer Epperson, a resident of the Shaw neighborhood, said the lack of upkeep has been an issue since she started taking her daughter and son to the playground nearly five years ago.
From the constant presence of litter surrounding the park to a broken, and then removed altogether, merry-go-round, the upkeep has been inconsistent.
“It seems like little by little, most of the equipment on the bigger playground side at least has been falling apart and then not being repaired,” said Epperson.
Epperson said some families explicitly keep their children away from the playground because of the unsafe conditions. But Epperson also mentioned that she isn’t entirely sure who is responsible for the maintenance when it comes to both reporting and financing the repairs.
The Wash discovered the slide is the subject of an open work order, with at least 13 other alleged languishing repair requests inside the recreation and park areas. These numbers were provided to The Wash by an official in Ward 6.
According to a list of open work orders obtained by The Wash, there are still several unresolved repair requests including the outside handicap door handle, the men’s urinal and the railings on playground equipment. The orders have remained open and unresolved for varying periods of time, from two months to over a year.
ANC representatives and Shaw community members have previously raised concerns about the unsafe playground conditions with both the Departments of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and General Services (DGS). But the wooden planks still remain hammered into the end of the slide, rendering the slide completely unusable.
“We’re just frustrated that the only thing the Bowser Administration seems to prioritize is ribbon cuttings,” said community member Dave McNitt in an email. “Ongoing maintenance is not a priority and that does a big disservice to DC citizens and ultimately wastes limited public dollars when we have to replace instead of fix.”
Commissioner Alex Padro, who has represented part of Ward 6 for the last 20 years, said the issue stems from a lack of attention to the Shaw community.
“If you were to go to Rose Park or Georgetown, or somewhere in Northwest, those kinds of repairs get done pretty quickly,” said Padro. “But when its a neighborhood where people are predominantly people of color and of mixed incomes, DGS can’t find the time to fix the repairs.”
Padro said the recreation center and playground in Shaw can see nearly 200 visitors on a regular day. Additionally, the center is used as a hypothermia facility in the winter, so wear and tear has become more common, ultimately making maintenance a necessity.
The playground was renovated in 2013 with new playground equipment, fresh play surfaces and greenery surrounding the property. The playground was reopened to the public on January 17, 2014.
The Wash reached out to DGS for comment last week about the status of the open work orders provided by Padro. Today, the Director of DGS, Keith Anderson, provided The Wash with a statement in response to this article:
But according to the list provided by Commissioner Padro, there are still work orders for items like the missing timeline on the concrete torus, water fountain leakage and more. The Wash is continuing its investigations on the open work orders.
Padro also shared with The Wash that DGS labels the maintenance for some of these items as “capital improvements” and is not included in the budget for replacement.
“The idea that they can’t even make basic repairs so that kids can enjoy during the course of the summer. They’d rather just leave empty space cause they can’t come up with the budget for play equipment,” said Padro.
The DPR page for the Kennedy Recreation Center playground touts a “great outdoor environment… for your convenience.”
But for parents like Lindsay Tiffany, the outdoor environment is not as convenient as DPR claims after her husband discovered extremely unsanitary conditions in the toddler play area of the playground earlier this year.
Tiffany said that her husband reported the presence of excrement to DPR through Twitter, but never received a response.
@DCDPR Kennedy Rec Center small kids playground needs some maintenance. Entry gate on P St. side is half broken and there's human feces in the play school structure cc/ @PoPville @AlexanderMPadro
— Ben Varquez (@benvarquez) September 21, 2019
“We want to advocate for the maintenance of the park,” said Tiffany. “But it was because of issues like these that we started going to different parks.”
Tiffany said that her family now frequents Westminster park, which is slightly further away from their home than Kennedy.
Thank you for reporting on this.
One of your photos shows a slide that comes out on a broken up surface. It’s a sprained or broken ankle waiting to happen.
The surface is called PIP — poured-in-place, made from melted waste tires and other toxic plastics, then treated with bright colors. It is touted as safe, soft and resilient.
The truth is that it’s wildly toxic, gets hard quickly and it reaches scorching temperatures on warm sunny days (like summer– when you want to go outside & play).
Tires contain a stew of known toxins like lead (!), PAHs, phthalates, endocrine disruptors, benzothiazole, VOCs, SVOCs, and the asbestos-twin carbon nanotubes.
Worst of all it crumbles into kid-to-mouth-friendly bits of colored toxic waste. Check out the edges of the pits at the foot of the slide in your photo.
Kids are exposed through inhalation, ingestion and dermal uptake. So even the kids who don’t put it in their mouths are exposed. And of course all those items get washed into our creeks with every rain.
How is this legal? The tire industry & others lobbied to get restrictions on tires suspended when tires are ‘recycled’ like this. There’s a lot of $$ made by turning a waste-disposal issue (used tires) into a profitable product.
The crazy result is that an intact tire is toxic waste & its disposal is regulated. But a shredded & melted tire is a playground. Or synthetic turf field. So a child can be exposed to this from toddlerhood through high school or college–maybe several times a week for several hours each time, in high heat, without disclosure or consent.
What’s the alternative? EWF. That’s Engineered Wood Fiber, a natural material that IS compliant with ADA standards when maintained (raking). EWF is also cooler, softer, cheaper, and way more environmentally friendly.
Given the condition of this playground, why won’t DGS run some pilots with EWF?