April 9, 2012


Playgrounds retain their charm

Play structures evolving to balance safety, fun

PlaygroundJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
While visiting family in Cortland Saturday, Evan Sun, 9, of New Jersey slides down the Rocket Slide at Beaudry Park.

Staff Reporter

The Rocket Slide at Beaudry Park’s playground stands out in a couple of ways.
Apart from its unique namesake design, the slide’s bright-red wiry framework also shows a little wear, tear and rust accumulated since it was built more than 40 years ago.
It also looks a little out of place, compared to everything else on the playground.
But that has been part of its charm, which kept it where it is.
“The Rocket Slide, it’s an outdated slide, but it’s fun to see generations of families using it,” said John McNerney, Cortland’s director of recreation and parks.
Parks and playgrounds in Cortland changed little since they were developed in the post-World War II years and into the 1970s — until the late 1990s.
The simple concept of play holds some science behind it, blending fun with exercise.
“It’s important to get more kids out to play and off things like video games,” McNerney said, as local recreation officials in Cortland and surrounding communities gear up for the spring and summer months.
Cortland has playgrounds in most of its parks: Beaudry on Scammell Street, Dexter on Elm Street, Suggett off Homer Avenue, and Yaman on Kennedy Parkway. Most of the original play equipment has been replaced over the recent years with newer models.
“Playgrounds are regulated more today, with stricter safety guidelines,” McNerney said. “That, I think, itself was responsible for changes in equipment.”
Classic teeter-totters that went up and down are being replaced by stationary rockers, which children sit in and rock to and fro.
Merry-go-rounds that had kids spinning in circles and hanging on for dear life are also going by the wayside because of safety concerns, McNerney said.
Climbing walls, such as one installed at Yaman Park in the late 1990s, are getting more common instead. Most of today’s playground designs also center around a shaded main structure that has various attachments, like slides and monkey bars.
Playgrounds today are built mostly with hard plastic and steel pieces specially coated to protect against damage and vandalism. That can have different playgrounds looking similar.
Melissa Bianconi, director of recreation for the town of Dryden, said parks in Tompkins County have also been upgrading equipment in recent years. Old wooden equipment was torn down recently at one playground in the village of Dryden and village officials plan to replace it with something new, said Bianconi, whose recreation department encompasses the villages in the town.
“A big part of of the trouble with (older) wood structures was they needed more ongoing maintenance — and the bees and wasps loved it,” Bianconi said.
While many of these parks get a facelift, Bianconi says she noticed a trend toward designing more creative and natural-looking features in playgrounds, especially with the color scheme.
“I think in the next decade or so, you’ll see more playgrounds with a more natural element or feel to them,” Bianconi said. “Playground designers are looking into that now. It’s an ever-changing and evolving field.”
Phil Tennant grew up during the 1950s and spent much of his childhood playing at local parks like Suggett with friends.
Tennant brought his three grandsons to Beaudry Park Saturday afternoon to take advantage of the bright and mild spring weather. The boys — Evan Sun, 9, his brothers Tate, 6, and Gideon, 4, were visiting from New Jersey for Easter weekend.
Tennant said he is impressed at how much more playgrounds offer today for children, while remaining relatively the same as when he was young.
“The park had swingsets and slides, and a baseball field, that’s about it,” Tennant said. “It didn’t have all these nice tubeslides and whatever all this other equipment is called.”
“This place rules!” Evan shouted as he ran up the “Rocket Slide” and rode it to the bottom.


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