Pittsburgh has to play catch-up with playground restoration

Bob Bauder
| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

Pittsburgh has fallen behind in playground repairs, triggering an outcry from North Side residents who say the city puts kids at risk and deprives them of recreation areas.

In Troy Hill recently, six children were swinging from dilapidated playground equipment that had been fenced off to keep them out. The kids apparently crawled through a hole in the fence to get in and exited the same way.

“Somebody's going to get hurt up here,” said Brian Kainz, 45, who lives near the Fenrich Memorial Playground at Overlook and Croft streets. “I'd like to see it fixed. I think they should be able to squeeze it into the budget.”

The city erected a similar fence around equipment at rundown Catalano Park playground on Spring Garden Avenue.

“They said they were going to put it out to bid, which I understand, but it's been closed for a year,” said Fred Mravintz Sr., 52, who lives across the street from the playground. “They need to come back and fix it.”

Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski said the city fenced off the two playgrounds for safety reasons until crews can make repairs. They are among 27 city playgrounds scheduled for repair work. The city has 129 playgrounds, and those two are the only ones closed, Kaczorowski said.

“The safety of a playground is very important because you don't want a kid getting hurt,” said City Council President Darlene Harris, who represents the North Side. “I turned those in six months ago, when I found out there were holes in the padding and there could be an accident.”

The playground's artificial foam surface remained badly worn and moldy in places last week.

The playgrounds, Kaczorowski said, fell victim to budget cuts in the past decade when Pittsburgh had chronic deficits and crippling debt.

Kaczorowski said the city set aside $1.3 million this year from its capital budget to repair playgrounds and parks, up sharply from $100,000 in 2010.

“To have potholes in a play safety-surface isn't acceptable,” he said. “If somebody goes in there, or breaks in, they're trespassing.”

Harris said parents should be responsible for keeping kids out.

“Where are the parents?” she asked.

The Catalano playground is scheduled to undergo a $140,000 rehabilitation and should be rebuilt early next year, Kaczorowski said. He said he recently authorized contractors to begin $40,000 worth of repair work on Fenrich, which should reopen this fall.

“It's just like our street paving program — it's fallen behind,” he said. “But in the past couple of years, our budget has been increasing for playgrounds and parks.”

In Troy Hill, Kainz anxiously awaits the fix.

“You're inviting people to come back here and drink,” he said. “It's going to happen, and it's starting to happen. You're attracting the wrong kind of people.”

Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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