HOLLIDAYSBURG - The darkened, weather-beaten wood of Kids Kingdom playground in American Legion Memorial Park looked ominous against the dark gray clouds, which recently signaled that winter weather is near, but its appearance may be misleading.
After receiving complaints from area residents that Kids Kingdom and Canal Basin Park were not being properly maintained, Borough Manager Mark Schroyer and other officials conducted an analysis at Legion Park about two weeks ago to see whether the complaints were valid.
"The [structures are] in average-to-good shape," Schroyer said. "The wood pieces look worse than they are."
Mirror photos by Kelly Cernetich
Hollidaysburg Borough officials said the playground equipment is safe at Canal Basin Park despite complaints from residents. Improvements are planned this spring
The story is much the same at Canal Basin. The bridge leading to the ship playground and Reiser House Visitor Center is marred by a few scratches and vandals' vain attempts at carving initials or profanity into the wood, but the damage seems to be mostly cosmetic.
A few chunks of soft red padding have been ripped away in an upper-level play area, and the once-bright ship's paint has faded. The same goes for a smaller, plastic playground about 10 yards away. Otherwise, the playground looks and feels sturdy.
But there is more to a playground than planks of wood.
A community effort
Hollidaysburg Area Women's Club member Lore Kimble was general coordinator of the play park 16 years ago when Kids Kingdom was erected.
"I was involved from the beginning," said Kimble, who said the playground project was completed within a year of its undertaking. It took nine months to raise the $125,000 needed to pay for the park, and five days toward the end of May 1996 to erect.
Kimble said 1,200 community volunteer builders put the structure together under the advisement of the park's design firm, Leathers & Associates of Ithaca, N.Y.
The website says with proper maintenance, playgrounds will last for 25 years.
Leathers also provided borough management with a care plan to make the park last, but, according to Kimble, without room in the budget or enough manpower, workers had trouble keeping up with the park's needs.
On a sign that lists the name of "Friends" - businesses and individuals who contributed to the Kids Kingdom park's creation - someone added the words "with benifits" [sic] in permanent marker.
"And Goldilocks has no face," added Kimble, who said some of the murals show evidence of vandalism.
Also needed is more fibar, a type of playground surfacing material that resembles wood chips.
Kimble said that because children helped with the playground's design - and in some cases, the construction - she and other women's club members hoped they would want it taken care of.
"The borough and the community could use help," she said.
But Kimble said people shouldn't get the impression that the park is unsafe.
Some of the wood might have split, but a pressure treatment, done to ward off insects and fungal decay, has kept the playground safe for climbing and play. She said the wood just needs to be power washed and coated with wood treatment come spring.
"The borough has stepped up," she said, but mentioned a few other decorative aspects that could be repaired to make the park more welcoming and attractive.
Alicia LaBuz, 34, and her husband, Brendon, 32, of Hollidaysburg said they walk their three "four-legged children" in the park regularly, and that they love seeing the playground full of children during the warmer months.
Both said parents and kids seem to enjoy spending time climbing and playing, and they have never seen anyone get hurt.
Schroyer said borough officials are planning a spring cleaning project and enhanced safety inspections to give both playgrounds another three to seven years of life.
"The safety standards of playgrounds are better than they were 15, 17, 18 years ago," he said.
Kimble said the women's club also is planning a cleanup day come spring.
Mirror staff writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.