TARPON SPRINGS — A playground that came under scrutiny because of broken glass on its grounds and equipment in disrepair is no more.
The playground at the Mango Circle housing complex was removed Sunday after a National Playground and Park Association inspector delivered a scathing report Friday that deemed the site unsafe for children.
"The area is in really bad condition and the playground was unsuitable," said Linda Herring, chairwoman of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority's board. "We decided to totally remove it and do it immediately, not sit there and say we have a problem and not take action when we we're told that it was unsafe."
The report prompted an emergency meeting Friday of the Housing Authority board, which voted unanimously to raze the playground.
The demolition came a week after a report in the St. Petersburg Times told of the unkempt condition of the playground and concerns from residents of the 60-unit complex, which was built in the early 1970s for those with low incomes.
The report — done by Christopher Neuerer, a certified playground safety inspector — said the equipment at Mango Circle was badly rusted and corroded with 50 percent of the steel poles in the ground rusting away. Neuerer noted that there were traces of lead in the paint on the equipment and that the chipping is very hazardous to children and the environment.
He said the structure was close to completely noncompliant to today's standards and should be completely removed and replaced.
"This unit at Mango Circle, Tarpon Springs, is a perfect example of a playground that has had no maintenance program or retro fitting to meet today's standard for playground safety," Neuerer wrote in his report. "… It is my recommendation to remove these units for child safety."
Despite those findings and the Housing Authority board's quick action, the authority's executive director remains steadfast that the playground was not hazardous.
Pat Weber takes issue with the report's finding that no maintenance was conducted on the equipment. Last week, she said the playground equipment was not unsafe and that it was continuously checked to ensure safety. She said repairs were made immediately when a problem was discovered and that no one had been injured.
"I don't agree with that, neither did the HUD inspector," Weber said Monday of previous inspections by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. "I disagree with that the playground was not maintained.
"If you look in the body of the report, there were no protruding bolts or (jagged) metal pieces. I do not agree that we did not maintain it and on some terms, it was safe. But I'm in a Catch-22 here."
Weber said no decision has been made on what to cover the site with now that the equipment has been removed, but mulch is being considered.
The Tarpon Housing Authority has plans to demolish Mango Circle as it sits today and rebuild. But those plans are contingent upon receiving a federal tax credit.
The authority should know in late September if it will get the credit. If it does, Mango Circle will be leveled in late 2010 and replaced. Weber said plans call for a clubhouse, a swimming pool and a new playground in addition to better housing.
Herring said the process for the tax credit is going well. And if it doesn't come through, the authority will look at other proposals for the area.
In the meantime, Weber said, children in the neighborhood have access to Dorsett Park, which is within walking distance to Mango Circle. In addition, there is an after-school and summer program nearby that's sponsored by the authority, the Juvenile Welfare Board, the YMCA and the Tarpon Springs Police Department.
Some residents of Mango Circle are glad to see the playground removed.
"It's a good thing because that playground was not safe for the kids," said Teresa Mosley, a Mango Circle resident who has three children. "Whether they put in another one, that's the problem. What are the kids going to do now? But still, it's a good thing they took it out."
Resident Kandria Hall agreed.
"It's about time," said Hall, who has four children. "Everyone is happy. That's a good move. It's a good start that they tore it down and are moving in the right direction."
Raxann Solis, 23, lives behind the playground in one of Mango Circle's units. Her back windows overlook the area. Solis said she would often go out and visit with the children while they played on the equipment.
On Sunday, Solis said she heard noises as the equipment was being removed.
"What's all that knocking out there," Solis said. "I asked them if they were going to replace it, they told me they didn't know.
"When the children are in the park, we know they are in a safe place. Now they have no place to play, and playing on the sidewalk someone could pull around and take them away."
Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org