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Rubberized surfaces a trend for parks

Sand and wood-chip playground surfaces are losing favor at Grass Valley city parks as rubberized surfaces quickly take their place.

Two city playgrounds – Minnie Park on Minnie Street and Dow Alexander Park on Bank Street – already have rubberized surfaces. Across the country, cities are switching to rubberized grounds to save on maintenance costs and to avoid liability problems.

The Western Gateway Park District installed rubber surfaces beneath play equipment at the park on Penn Valley Drive last year to avoid lawsuits.



Grass Valley Recreation and Facility Manager Sandy Jacobson said she expects to save about $6,500 a year in city labor.

Two other parks – DeVere Mautino Community Park on Alta Street and Condon Park, off of Butler Street – potentially could get the new playground surfaces in the near future, said Richard Fitzhugh, the city’s public works superintendent.




State and federal guidelines allow sand and wood fiber surfaces under play equipment – so long as they are loose. But daily use compacts those materials into relatively hard surfaces that can lead to injuries when children fall.

“There’s a fair amount of man hours spent fluffing it up,” Fitzhugh said of traditional surfaces. “Rubberized is far easier to maintain and clean.”

Freezing kids out

But all surfaces, including the new rubber ones, can freeze, re-creating the potential hazards of hard surfaces that officials want to avoid.

Area resident Mary Cahill told The Union she was surprised in January when she arrived at Memorial Park on Colfax Avenue in Grass Valley with around 30 parents, waiting for supervised visits with their children. She found the gate to the playground had been locked; a sign was posted that blamed freezing weather.

The playground was closed because the wood-chip surface was frozen, Fitzhugh said.

It was closed for several days, Cahill said. “It remained locked even though the temperature was in the 50s,” she said.

A spokesman for the company providing the rubber flooring, Environmental Molding Concepts, did not return calls Wednesday. If water were to freeze on the rubber surface, the city would have to close the playground because that would constitute a hard surface, Fitzhugh said.

Despite such seasonal concerns, it’s the compaction of sand and wood chips over time that poses the biggest concern, Fitzhugh said.

Strict rules

State standards require 12 inches of depth for both wood chips and sand surfaces, Fitzhugh said. If the depth has eroded or the surface becomes compact, city workers need to replace it as needed and fluff it up.

Up to 5 inches of depth are required on rubberized surfaces and maintenance simply involves keeping the surface clear, Fitzhugh said.

Minnie Park’s new rubberized surface debuted March 20; a celebration is planned for noon Friday, when guests will be treated to cookies and refreshments.

Grass Valley is joining a trend away from traditional playground surfaces.

“More and more agencies are going in that manner,” said Jane Adams, executive director with the California Parks and Recreation Society. The group provides certification for playground inspectors.

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City Editor Trina Kleist contributed to this story. To contact Staff Writer Greg Moberly, e-mail gregm@theunion.com or call 477-4234.


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