Don’t play in the sand

Allison Mattingly plays in the sand at Christmas Hill Park.

Gilroy
– Local parents are worried that kids will miss out on a vital
childhood experience due to the city’s plans to largely eliminate
sand from new playgrounds – a change city officials say is
necessary to save money and bring playgrounds up to safety and
accessibility standards.
Gilroy – Local parents are worried that kids will miss out on a vital childhood experience due to the city’s plans to largely eliminate sand from new playgrounds – a change city officials say is necessary to save money and bring playgrounds up to safety and accessibility standards.

“Christmas Hill Park is the only place I go because they have the sandbox,” said Sandy Mattingly, mother of a 5-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy. “And I know it’s a draw for a lot of other people.”

A large turnout of parents are expected at a Parks and Recreation Commission meeting next week, when commissioners will continue reviewing plans for the city’s new playgrounds. The city’s plans to eliminate sand from the new parks, now four years in the making, came out during a question and answer session at the commission’s last meeting on Feb. 15.

The city will construct four new playgrounds during the next 18 months at Carriage Hill Park, Los Arroyos Park, Sunrise Park and the Sports Park. Wood shavings will take the place of the traditional sand cover at those sites, according to Gilroy Parks and Facilities Manager Bill Headley, although Los Arroyos and Sunrise will include some “sand features.” Sand will also disappear in coming months from two existing playgrounds at Forest Street Park and Las Animas Veterans Park’s Oaks Play area.

Headley said that a combination of price and state and federal accessibility requirements have forced the city to switch from sand to wood shavings as the preferred “cover” for playgrounds.

Of the city’s existing playgrounds, only the ones at Christmas Hill Park and Del Ray Park will continue to feature sand, according to Headley. Christmas Hill has a large sand play area and Del Ray Park has a sand cover for the entire playground, with handi-capped accessible pathways made of concrete and rubberized surface.

“The traditional sand with concrete and rubberized surface is very costly to do,” Headley explained. “We can’t afford to do that any longer.”

“Twenty years ago accessibility through the sand wasn’t an issue,” he added. “But grandma with a walker, Johnny with a wheelchair are entitled to have access to the basic playground components. That’s what’s driving this.”

Local daycare operator Donna Silva – who has a degree in childhood development – acknowledged that the switch to wood shavings holds certain health and safety benefits.

“It’s much more resistant to children’s falling,” Silva explained. “The kids get hurt less because the sand gets compacted and the [wood shavings] settle but remain cushiony. And it’s wheelchair accessible. You can push a stroller through it. When you push a stroller through sand, it doesn’t go very far.”

Silva, who has two young children of her own, and other parents do not like the idea of kids frolicking in animal droppings, cigarette butts and other unhealthy debris that often find their way into the sandbox, but they warn about the consequences of eliminating sand play areas entirely.

“I think that children need an opportunity to experience sand,” Silva said. “They’re measuring, they’re building, they’re communicating about what they’re making. It’s great social [interaction]. When the kids are off playing on the playground, they’re running around being active. When they’re playing in the sand, they’re calm.”

City officials have acknowledged the loss to parents and children, but point to the new design as a continuation of recent trends.

“All of our playground equipment is much more different than five years ago,” said City Administrator Jay Baksa. “It’s more plastic and more accessible. You could have a very accessible piece of equipment, but if it’s in something that’s not accessible if you’re in a wheelchair or use a roller, you’ve defeated the purpose.”

But city officials remain open to ideas from parents who wish to see a sandbox or similar sand “feature” installed, although parents will likely have to foot the bill.

“That is a relatively easy thing to do somewhere in the future,” Baksa said. “If some groups want to get together and put a sandbox in the parks, we’d be happy to talk to them.”

Got sand?

To support sand for the city’s parks

What: Parks and Recreation Commission meeting

When: March 15 at 6:30pm

Where: Gilroy Senior Center, 7371 Hanna St.

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