(Portland, OR) –
Due to safety concerns and after years of close monitoring, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) is closing the popular wooden play structure and wooden stage at the Couch Park playground (NW 19th Ave & Glisan, adjacent to Portland Public Schools’ Metropolitan Learning Center school) effective immediately. The closure comes after PP&R staff and an engineering firm’s determination that the structural stability of the wood playground structure (approximately 40 years old) and stage are at risk. Other, newer play equipment at Couch Park is not affected and will remain open. Though PP&R has stated we want to replace the play structure, no time frame nor funding are available at this point.
“We simply will not take any chances when it comes to the safety of the children who play at our playgrounds,” says Portland Parks & Recreation Director Mike Abbaté. “Our staff has been evaluating the wooden structure at Couch Park for years. We’ve had to remove several pieces of play equipment in that time frame, bit by bit; it’s the reality of decades-old, wooden playground attractions in a rainy climate. We know the wooden play structure has been a beloved, popular attraction for children and families. I know people will be disappointed, but I hope they’ll all agree that safety is, and should be, our bureau’s top priority.”
Portland Parks & Recreation crews have been monitoring the structure carefully over several years. PP&R recently asked an independent engineering firm, G2 Consultants, for an analysis of the play structure to help us understand any risks, and to determine appropriate next steps. Based on the engineers’ findings and our own staff’s assessment, Portland Parks & Recreation must fence nearly 40 year-old the wooden structure to take it out of use immediately.
“The fact that we need to close a showpiece element in a playground where hundreds of children play illustrates the grave need for more money to maintain our system,” says Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “Portland Parks & Recreation is grossly underfunded. Despite the long-acknowledged challenges to our system, we have made PP&R a nationally-recognized parks bureau thanks to amazing staff, valuable public-private partnerships, friends and partner groups. But such efforts can only go so far. This playground structure closure shows that we’ve reached our limit.”
The wooden play structure at Couch Park is now cordoned off. PP&R will be installing construction fencing around the structure this afternoon. A wooden stage near the playground will also be fenced off due to safety concerns. Portland Parks & Recreation owns and manages the playground itself; the land on which the playground sits is PPS property, specifically the adjacent Metropolitan Learning Center (MLC).
PP&R has long been testing the wooden play structure at Couch; with an eye on the deteriorating wooden beams that make up the structure. The report from G2 Consultants, Inc. lists several concerns, including
- Poor overall structural condition; some structural elements are coming apart, others contain dry rot
- Severe rotting of wood in parts of the structure’s flooring
- Presence of termites
- Wood and steel railings severely deteriorated due to weather
PP&R crews have been monitoring the structure carefully over several years. On several occasions staff have needed to remove pieces and portions of the wood structure – as well as other play equipment in the Couch Park playground - as they fell into disrepair. Most recently crews removed the monkey bars and several other features in October, 2012. Our crews have done our best to repair and maintain the structure, but it is no longer possible to consider it a safe place to play.
“This is disappointing news, especially for the young students of MLC,” says Trent Thelen, a Couch Park advocate and parent of an MLC student. “The play area is valuable for all visitors – kids and parents alike - to engage in free, unfettered play. However, we look forward to working with Portland Parks & Recreation and hopefully, neighborhood partners, on efforts to revitalize the playground. We look with optimism towards a revitalized Couch Park as an improved open space for the next generation of park users.”
The closest playgrounds to Couch Park are Wallace Park, NW 25th and Raleigh, and The Fields Park, NW 10th & Overton. Though PP&R has stated we want to replace the play structure, no time frame nor funding are available at this point. Building a new playground will require community involvement and input. In the immediate future, it could require a fundraising campaign since funds for a new structure are not available.
Major repairs and equipment replacement must come out of Portland Parks & Recreation’s General Fund, allocated by the City, rather than System Development Charges (SDCs). SDCs are revenue from construction development. SDC revenue is restricted to expanding capacity only; SDCs cannot be used for other purposes such as the Couch Park playground.
Based on PP&R’s current Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), the annual funding gap for repairing/renovation of existing assets is $36.5M. This means that we have $36.5M of unfunded maintenance projects planned each year for the next ten years; a ten-year total of$365M of unfunded maintenance projects. The Couch Park play structure has been and remains on PP&R’s capital improvements list because we want neighbors to have a safe, accessible and enjoyable play structure.
However, if funding becomes available to potentially replace the playground, please note that no project will go forward without community input.
|MLC principal Macarre Traynham tours the structure with PP&R playground maintenance supervisor Phil Bender
||The wooden play structure at Couch Park
|Damage to wooden play structure