The playground report

Rating recess at CUSD elementary schools

Illustration By Steve Ferchaud

Take a poll of elementary-school kids asking what school subject they like most, and you’re likely to get a universal response: recess. After all, kids just want to have fun—it’s their nature. And Chico schools for the most part do a good job of providing safe places for kids to play.

Perhaps because of this, playground safety is one thing that often gets left off many parents’ back-to-school checklists. Parents assume that one playground is as good as another and that the school will make sure its kids are safe. Usually they are right. Every playground in the district is checked on an annual basis by an inspector certified in state health and safety codes, reports Chico Unified School District Maintenance Director Mary Leary.

The district pays thousands of dollars annually to maintain school playgrounds, but there’s a catch. If something is broken or outdated, the school has to fix or remove it on its own dime. That’s why the schools with the greatest parental involvement—which is usually the same thing as saying “schools in wealthier neighborhoods"—often seem to get the best facilities.

Inspecting playgrounds is no walk in the park, as our reporters found out, toting clipboards and tape measures all over town when temperatures were above 100 degrees. But the uncomfortably warm weather did illuminate one of the worst features of many Chico school playgrounds—a chronic lack of shade that made any contact with playground equipment a skin-scorching proposition.

Other than that, most school playgrounds have minor code violations—S-hooks on swings were the most frequent problem—while a few have more serious issues. So, in the interest of advancing public safety and parental knowledge, we hereby present an authoritative look at Chico’s recess spots.

Chapman (D)
As this school is in one of the lower-income neighborhoods of Chico, it comes as no surprise that the playgrounds are older and less attractive than those at some other schools. But while Chapman’s two big-kid and one little-kid playgrounds are old and bland-looking, they are for the most part solid. With the sweet smell of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. wafting over the school, Chapman kids no doubt have fun playing on the traditional swings and monkey bars as well as on the spiders-from-Mars-themed jungle gyms.

Both big-kid areas are rectangular gravel beds with metal bar structures that at one time were painted bright colors but have since faded to brownish-gray. They are spaced well and seem to meet code for the most part. One area has a brand-new structure (what it’s supposed to be we can’t tell) and the other has partial shade. But the playgrounds lost major safety points on the following fronts:

· A large tree stump sits partially obscured by gravel in one of the playgrounds, representing a potentially dangerous tripping hazard.

· One structure had large chunks of broken concrete underneath it

· The bolts holding a pole to one structure are loose and protrude. On that same structure, a wooden post may have rot.

· Swing set S-hooks are slightly wide.

Citrus (C+)
Sporting shades of beige and forest green, the playground here looks just like the similarly nondescript classrooms that surround it. Drabness aside, this playground does have a large amount of saving grace in the form of shade. Buildings and trees all contribute to cooling down the metal structures so kids can play on them year-round. Not counting the lack of creativity in choosing a color scheme, there are a few problems:

· The swings are too close to the walls of the play area.

· A couple of bolts are loose and have spaces where tiny fingers could get stuck.

· The S-hooks on the swings are separated.

· Rust is present on the geodesic climber, and the paint is chipping on some other structures.

· On the day we visited, a large bag of old fiberglass insulation was in the play area, which we assume is not a normal occurrence, but it could harm children who happen upon it.

Emma Wilson (B)
One recess couldn’t last long enough for kids to play on each part of the large jungle gyms at this school. The playgrounds are divided into areas for older, younger and kindergarten-aged kids. The kindergarten kids have it best with the ingenious addition to their area of a water fountain, which helps to compensate for the lack of shade. They also have a cool plastic tic-tac-toe board on their jungle gym that is shaped liked a castle. The area surrounding all of the playgrounds is large and inviting, with well maintained fields for those children tired of playing on the plastic jungles.

Though they may not be able to find time to play on everything during recess, kids may find time to be harmed by one of the following problems:

· A slide is missing a piece of plastic, meant to cover hardware, and the space is large enough to trap extremities.

· One slide has a drop-off of nearly two feet when kids exit the slide. The gravel surfacing is worn away underneath several slide exits.

· S-hooks are gaped [gapped?], and the swings are too close to the edge.

Hooker Oak (B-)
The kids who go here are some of the luckiest in Chico. Having just installed an enormous, $20,000 play structure in 2001, Hooker Oak can truly boast one of the nicest playgrounds in town. Going along with the school’s tree-themed moniker, the playgrounds are well-shaded and the wood chips underneath the modern structure are soft and thick.

That’s not to say the playground is perfect. On a recent visit, the following problems came up:

· Two of the swings on an older swing set were broken, and there are large pits underneath the swings.

· The S-hooks on the little kids’ swing set were wide.

· The ladder for the little kids’ multi-gym was wobbly.

Jay Partridge (C-)
Schizophrenic may be a strange way to describe a playground, but Jay Partridge deserves it. While some of the play structures are brand-new, others are old and decrepit. Some of the four separate play structures run together and are covered with weeds, trash and graffiti. Others are in excellent shape, benefiting from newer equipment and modern hardware, including a swing set that uses U-type bolts to hold the seats—a big improvement over those pesky S-hooks.

Problems include:

· Drainage issues and a lack of surfacing material under the geodesic dome and other structures.

· The plastic twisty slide shakes and seems unsteady.

· Weeds and uneven surfacing materials make some parts seem severely neglected.

· One swing is broken.

· Some nails in the retaining walls stick up, creating a potential tripping hazard.

LITTLE SWINGERS <br>The Consumer Products Safety Commission advises that the gap on S-hooks should be no wider than the width of a dime.

Photo By Josh Indar

· Hand grips and poles are loose on a gym/swing structure.

John McManus (C-)
This one falls under the “needs improvement” category, especially in the little-kids’ area. The playgrounds here seem almost an afterthought, with one bordering a fenced-off parking lot and the other stuck between portable buildings. There is no shade for either playground, and the big kids must be tortured by the close proximity of Chuck E. Cheese, which, though it is no fault of the school’s, must be hard to ignore at lunch time.

Among the multiple problems here are:

· Uneven woodchip surfacing in both playgrounds, especially under swings and monkey bars.

· In the little kids’ area, the fabric beneath the woodchips is showing in several areas, representing a major tripping hazard.

· A newer hand-sliding bar in the big kids’ area does not slide freely.

· A rope is tied to the big kids’ slide that could snag or even strangle a child.

· Access to a commercial loading zone could be gained by jumping a 4-foot fence.

· The little kids’ slide is warped, rusty and dirty.

Little Chico Creek (B-)
Walking through the sprawling courtyards and tiled walls of this school, one would expect to find a playground that rivals Disneyland. Disappointingly, there is only a stark area of about five pieces of equipment on which to play. Maybe kids at this school don’t play, or maybe they spend their time in the enormous and lush soccer fields that look out on the foothills.

When kids get bored of absorbing nature’s beauty they can play on one of the hottest slides in Chico or traverse a rather wimpy jungle gym. The little kids’ area is cute with a bouncy airplane and rowboat. Only a couple of problems exist:

· The slides are metal and in the full sun become very hot to the touch.

· S-hooks are separated.

· Coating on platforms is worn away.

Street widening is taking place in front of Marigold, so the playgrounds are under construction and thus can’t be fairly rated. From the looks of it, the new playgrounds will be first-rate.

Neal Dow (A)
Now we’re talking. Kids at Neal Dow play on modern and well-maintained equipment in three separate play areas that are mercifully, if partially, shaded and surrounded by lush, green grass. The gravel beneath the structures is clean, abundant and evenly spread. It’s enough to make you want to take fourth grade all over again.

Just one thing:

· One hand-over-hand obstacle has mildly protruding bolts that are just a teensy bit sharp.

Parkview (A)
Tired of rusty old equipment that looks like a breeding ground for tetanus? You won’t find anything like that at this school. Climbing on a dinosaur, swinging on a climbing bar and setting out to explore the colorful jungle gym at this school are only the first items on the recess agenda. After that, playing on the slightly shaded swing sets located on a bed of moist woodchips could be the way to go. Hardware at this school is actually up to code, with bolts and S-hooks tightened and sharp edges filed down. Parkview could improve a couple of things:

· The gravel surfacing is too shallow in some places.

· The swings are slightly too close to the surrounding walls.

Rosedale (B+)
With four different play areas, kids at Rosedale have plenty of play structures to choose from, but it’s a cinch they prefer the newer, colorful ones to the old, outdated monkey bars. For the most part, the playgrounds here are safe and fun, but a little more shade would be nice, especially at this time of the year, when some of the handgrips are too hot to touch.

Notable but minor problems include:

· One of the little kids’ slides is loose where it attaches to the ladder.

· Weeds growing through one of the tots’ structures could be a tripping hazard.

· S-hooks too wide on little kids’ swing set.

· Dead roaches present near buildings, probably due to recent fumigation.

Shasta (B-)
When the original playground was built at this school it must have been quite chic, but it is now dwarfed by the huge jungle gym in the playground across the courtyard. One can just envision the younger children stuck climbing on a paint-chipped snail-shaped structure, while they look longingly at the big kids’ area with all of the modern standards of playground enjoyment. The newer equipment is fun and cheerful but does pose a few safety hazards:

· Underneath a slide there is a slab of exposed, compacted gravel to meet kids exiting the slide.

· There are several places where pieces of hardware used to be that need to be filled in.

· Edges on the old playground are only a few inches from the fence, which is just enough space for a small child to get stuck.

Sierra View (A-)
There’s just something cool about a suspension bridge on a playground. We imagine the one at Sierra View has lent itself to the creation of many a fair damsel in distress and knight in shining armor during recess. The jungle gym here is relatively new and looks pretty inviting. The woodchip surface underneath the equipment is thick and evenly spread out and is surrounded by a plastic edging that eliminates the threat of kids getting splinters from sitting on a wooden barrier.

There is absolutely no shade, but the equipment stays relatively cool because of a coating on the metal structures. The school doesn’t get off scot-free, but close:

· The S-hooks on swings are separated.

· Swings have slight rust.

· Coating that covers chain on bridge is cracked and kids could stick their fingers in the space.