Pat Weber, executive director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority, insists the playground equipment at the Mango Circle housing complex is safe and is checked "continuously" to ensure that it remains safe. Her playground inspectors apparently wear blindfolds when they visit. Anyone with eyes open would see this:
• Protruding bolts
• No cushioning ground cover
• Dirt laden with jagged pieces of broken glass
Any reasonable person would conclude the playground is unsafe and improperly maintained. Weber and city officials should be embarrassed that this situation exists as a threat to local children and should see to it that the playground is fixed before a child is injured or worse.
A St. Petersburg Times reporter interviewed Mango Circle residents who said they won't let their children play on the playground because they consider it unsafe. However, a Times photographer found plenty of children of all ages playing on the aged equipment on a recent day. Had they fallen, they would have landed with a hard thump, because only a thin, spotty thatch of dead grass and pine needles tops the dirt under the play structure. There is no thick layer of sand, mulch or recycled rubber to cushion falls, as there is under equipment on properly maintained playgrounds.
And if a child falls down, the chance of him cutting himself is high, because the dirt sparkles with what must be thousands of shards of glass.
In a more well-to-do neighborhood, residents would be demanding action and officials would be responding. Realistically, the playground probably never would have existed in such a condition.
But this playground is in Mango Circle, a public housing complex, and because the residents have little money or influence, their needs apparently are easy for officials to overlook, even when those needs concern the safety of children.
Weber, in arguing that the playground is safe, said that no children have been injured there. That seems unlikely, since children often get hurt even on well-maintained playgrounds. In fact, hospital emergency rooms treat an average of 148,000 children each year who are injured on public playgrounds.
Weber contended that residents should help keep the playground free of glass. Certainly, they should do what they can, but the property belongs to the Housing Authority and keeping it clean and safe is ultimately the authority's responsibility.
Weber also said that she will not invest money in the playground now because her plan is to tear down the Mango Circle complex and build a new neighborhood. The housing authority is applying for a federal tax credit and if it receives the credit, construction could begin at the end of 2010.
Mango Circle is old and outdated, and it should be replaced. But even if everything works as Weber plans, that means current conditions could exist for more than a year. That is plenty of time for a child to be hurt. Weber surely doesn't want that.
This is National Playground Safety Week — an excellent time for officials of Tarpon Springs and the Housing Authority to get busy on a plan for fixing the Mango Circle playground.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 60 percent of the injuries on playground equipment are caused by falls to the ground. The commission reports that it is critically important to provide loose, shock-absorbing, protective surfaces under playground equipment, and the depth should range from 6 to 12 inches and extend 6 feet beyond the edges of the equipment.
The safety commission also notes that protruding bolts can catch strings on clothing and cause children to be strangled. And it emphasizes that playgrounds should be inspected regularly and any rust, splinters, rough edges, litter, rocks and chipped paint should be removed.
Weber should waste no time proceeding with repairs, and city officials should do all they can to ensure that residents of their city are no longer put at risk while playing at Mango Circle.