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Dilapidated, glass-strewn Tarpon Springs playground is safe, housing official insists

TARPON SPRINGS

Ten-year-old Tyana Mosley plays among broken glass and broken equipment. • The swing set has no seats, and even if it did, there are no chains to connect the seats to the frame. The basketball goal hangs awkwardly from its pole. Splinters jut from the wood planks of the ''Hey Wagon,'' on which children can pretend they're on a Conestoga wagon. • The jungle gym is intact, and Tyana happily swung from its bars Thursday. But glass shards littered the ground beneath her feet. • "I wish we had a swing,'' Tyana said Thursday, "especially when it's hot."

The small playground sits in the middle of the 60-unit Mango Circle housing complex. The woman ultimately responsible for its upkeep is Pat Weber, executive director of Tarpon Springs Housing Authority.

"The playground equipment,'' she insists, "is not unsafe."

Weber said the playground equipment is checked "continuously" to ensure its safety and a full check is done yearly. She said repairs are made immediately when a problem is discovered. No one has been injured there, Weber said.

Residents describe the playground in different terms.

"It's ancient, it's old and it's not safe," said Kandria Hall, a four-year resident of Mango Circle who has four children. "I don't let my kids go over there. They play in the front yard here. I've lived up here (Tarpon Springs) for 11 years, and I don't ever remember there being a swing out there."

Linda Drayton, 58, has lived in Mango Circle for five years. She doesn't allow her grandchildren to go to the small park in the center of the community.

"They want to go so bad, but I don't let them," Drayton said. "That's no place for kids."

Weber said no maintenance or inspection records are kept, nor does the Housing Authority keep receipts when equipment is repaired or replaced.

Weber said that every time the playground equipment is repaired, the bigger children in the community vandalize it again. She too can't remember when there was a working swing set. She has no plans to fix it.

"It's not a safe thing to do in that playground," Weber said. "It's not a usable thing for the kids there."

Weber said she doesn't want to put more money into the playground because Mango Circle is going to be leveled and rebuilt.

"We are not going to spend $20,000 to $30,000 on playground equipment and take it all out when we build a new site," Weber said. "That doesn't make sense.''

The Tarpon Springs Housing Authority is applying for a federal tax credit that if received, will be used to replace Mango Circle, tear down and rebuild five other buildings it owns and to do an infill project at Lime and Boyer streets. The applications are due in May and the authority will be notified in September or October.

If the credit is received, construction could begin at the end of 2010, Weber said. To ensure that current residents have housing, the work at Mango Circle will be done in two phases.

"We could have demolished Mango Circle two years ago and waited," Weber said. "We've kept it as good as we could. It's not as good as I like. Our goal is good: to keep housing for the low income until we rebuild."

The Tarpon Springs Housing Authority has 225 apartments citywide. Half of those residents are elderly and the other half are families. Of families, 85 percent of them are working in low-paying jobs, Weber said.

Mango Circle has an erosion problem. The complex's edge has become a dumping ground with discarded sofas and mattresses. The authority has turned several buildings in the community into a maintenance shop where old washing machines can be seen sitting out in the yard.

Residents are pleased to hear that the community is on the list for an upgrade, but they say that could take another two years. They question the decision to not provide a decent and safe place for the children to play until that happens.

"They have absolutely nothing to do," said Jerlean Scott, a three-year resident. "Look at all the glass and it's been this way for years. This is an instance where painting over it isn't going to make it better. The children need safe equipment to play on."

Weber expresses frustration about the glass. She said her workers clean the area for glass.

"The glass has been an issue," Weber said. "I wish and hope the residents would help to keep it clean."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

Dilapidated, glass-strewn Tarpon Springs playground is safe, housing official insists 04/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 18, 2009 2:26pm]

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