Many local residents were “shocked” to discover that the playground at the Rancho Santa Fe Field suddenly disappeared late last year.
According to Rancho Santa Fe Association Manager Christy Whalen, the playground was dismantled in December as a safety precaution because it was in disrepair. As it was a wood structure, it did not weather well.
The six-year-old playground was the result of an 18-month-long process by community members to get approved by the Association and built. Some residents have questioned the decision-making process behind its removal.
“As there is so little in the way of amenities for families in our community, we demand that the playground be rebuilt or built new immediately,” wrote resident Meredith Garner in a letter to the board. “If we want to attract and keep families here, a playground is a pittance. It is a minimum amenity. And it will affect our property values.”
Whalen said there was never an intention not to replace the structure.
“We consider members of all ages, especially our young families, to be a very important part of our community,” Whalen said.
The playground with towers, a playhouse and slides had been tucked behind the baseball diamond backstop at the RSF Field on Rambla de las Flores. The decision to remove it was made at the Association Trails and Recreation Committee level last year.
“In a noticed open meeting of the Trails and Recreation Committee, staff reported that the residential designed play structure, selected by parents, was unsafe,” said RSF Association Board Director Sharon Ruhnau, the Trail and Recreation Committee representative. “The deterioration of the structure was significant. In addition, a majority of the adjoining parking lot has been designated as a staging area for our fiber optic project. This area has trucks going in and out during the day and its gate is open.”
Although warning signs were posted, Ruhnau said there was no containing fencing around the play area and children’s safety could be at risk.
“In the interest of the safety of our children the Trails and Recreation Committee decided to remove the play structure for the time being and attend to it after the fiber optic staging area is cleared,” Ruhnau said. “This may not be the most convenient solution, but it is a temporary solution, not a moratorium on playgrounds in Rancho Santa Fe.”
The long process to get the playground began back in 2011 with a request from resident Heather Slosar, a mother of five. There had previously been three other attempts to get a playground in Rancho Santa Fe that had all failed due to zoning issues.
“It was so hard to get,” Slosar said of the process that included the challenging task of finding a suitable location for the playground—the Arroyo Preserve was originally proposed but rejected by the board. In order to secure the spot at the ball fields, the Association had to amend an agreement with a neighboring resident to allow for the use.
The Association purchased the $25,000 wood structure and saved $5,000 on the installation by holding a community build. Families spent a day putting the set together and children laid the wood chips before a ribbon-cutting ceremony in November 2012.
Slosar said the playground was under a 10-year warranty with Bears Playgrounds and in her discussions with the company she was told they would have replaced any broken pieces. She said she doesn’t believe that the wood set was ever treated to withstand the weather or maintained—she said a similar eight-year-old set at the Village Church remains in good shape.
“It’s the most shocking that they just threw it out,” Slosar said, adding that if it was unsafe it could’ve been taped it off while they developed a plan to reduce liability by replacing or repairing the playground.
In a letter in response to Garner, RSF Association Board Director Mike Gallagher said it was unfortunate that the action was taken to remove the structure without a plan to replace it with something more weather-resistant and permanent.
The Trails and Recreation Committee was expected to discuss the playground at its meeting this week and an update will be given at the RSF Association board’s Feb. 7 meeting.