The Wash

Slow city response to dangerous playground conditions

UPDATE: DC responds to AU Wash investigation into backlogged work orders.

*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.

According to ANC Commissioner Alex Padro, the work order for the slide has been open for several months. (Elise Dean / The Wash)

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.

Resident Lindsay Tiffany said the playground gets very hot in the summer. Here’s a side by side of missing equipment that could provide shade. (Elise Dean / The Wash)

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:

*The Department of General Services (DGS) takes the safety of all users of the playground at the Kennedy Recreation Center very seriously.  Currently, DGS has five open work orders for this playground.  Of these, four work orders are identified as repair needs; the replacement of basketball court nets – which was recently completed – and canopy material on the gazebo, in addition to repair or replacement of playground equipment and a slide.  The three remaining repair work orders are currently being prioritized.  The final work order is for resurfacing the playground which is considered a capital project.  The playground surface will be inspected to verify that it in fact will require repair or replacement.  This will require collaboration with the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR).

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.

Commissioner Padro calls the playground “an obstacle course” for children playing there.

“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.

“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.

Elise Dean

Elise Dean is a journalism masters student at American University. Her work covers Shaw, U Street and Logan Circle.

She also hosts a female-empowerment podcast called She+ that shares the extraordinary stories of everyday women.

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