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Kids Kastle closed for safety, replacement uncertain with cost possibly $250,000

By Dan Miller


Posted 6/6/18

Kids Kastle in Hoffer Park was closed by the borough Tuesday, and it will be torn down with hopes of it being replaced, Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach told the Press & Journal.

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Kids Kastle closed for safety, replacement uncertain with cost possibly $250,000


Kids Kastle in Hoffer Park was closed by the borough Tuesday, and it will be torn down with hopes of it being replaced, Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach told the Press & Journal.

A sign has been posted alerting the public that the playground is closed, and a fence has been put up so that children cannot enter, he said.

According to Wilsbach, council decided to close the playground during a closed-door executive session that was held after council had adjourned its June 4 meeting.

Council President Damon Suglia did not state publicly when council went into executive session that council was going to discuss Hoffer Park, although Suglia did refer to council discussing “real estate” during the closed door session.

Wilsbach said the playground needs to be closed, following a report that was done for the borough by consultants that identified unsafe conditions and equipment in Kids Kastle, which opened 25 years ago.

The borough initially sought to remove the unsafe equipment and allow Kids Kastle to remain open. However, Wilsbach said he does not have enough funds in his public works budget this year to address all the needs and concerns that the consultant says must be done.

“The main thing is child safety,” Wilsbach said. He added that he hopes that closing the park will lead to creation of a citizens’ group that can work toward building a new Kids Kastle.

Council and Mayor James H. Curry III publicly discussed options for what to do about Kids Kastle on May 16, following Wilsbach’s presentation of the consultants’ report.

“Shutting it down does not mean that we are not going to do something to replace it, or bring it up to the standards that we require in 2018,” Curry said May 16.

“But that was the whole purpose of raising the money to get that report — to bring this issue to the forefront. And now that it has been, we should definitely do something,” he added.

Councilor Mike Woodworth said he hoped that the process will lead to a safer playground and one that is “more inclusive” as a result of meeting today’s standards for handicapped accessibility.

A new version will cost $200,000 to $250,000, Wilsbach said.

Safety hazards ranked

The consultant had ranked items in terms of priority as being unsafe, so these pieces of equipment needed to be removed “as soon as possible,” Wilsbach had told the Press & Journal earlier.

For example, one hazard the consultant identified concerning Kids Kastle is “head pinches,” meaning that a child could get his or her head stuck in some of the equipment.

There is also concern about the continued deterioration of the wood at Kids Kastle, most dating to when the original structure was first built and opened in 1993.

“It’s just too much,” Wilsbach said of the deterioration on June 5.

The consultant’s report recommends Kids Kastle be torn down and replaced with a new playground, instead of the borough trying to salvage and preserve what is left, Wilsbach said.

Kids Kastle met the safety requirements in place when it opened in 1993, as well as the requirements of that time for handicapped accessibility.

But those requirements have changed over the ensuing years.

Study funding

The report done for the borough by Play By Design of Ithaca, New York, was paid for out of proceeds from Mayor’s Mangia Monday, a fundraiser that Curry organized in August 2017 to raise money toward Kids Kastle.

Most of the $2,324.24 raised came from tips given to Curry, borough councilors, borough officials and firefighters who spent an evening delivering pizza and other food that residents ordered from J&J Pizza & Family Restaurant on East Main Street. J&J also donated $400 from its proceeds for the night.

Curry held the event to jump-start a plan of action for Kids Kastle, a subject the mayor said he has heard residents talking about for many years.

Borough Finance Director Kevin Zartman couldn’t say what the study cost. But there is still $910.98 in the Mayor’s Mangia Monday account as of April 30, Zartman told the Press & Journal.

In presenting the Play By Design report to council on May 16, Wilsbach acknowledged the findings regarding the condition of Kids Kastle aren’t good news, although they did not come as a surprise to him.

“They identified a number of safety concerns. We knew they would. That’s why we contracted with them,” he said. Kids Kastle was built to have a life span of 25 to 30 years, and it is closing in on 26 years.

Curry agreed with Wilsbach and Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter that it makes little sense trying to preserve what is left of Kids Kastle.

“By putting Band-Aids on this we’re just throwing good money after bad,” Curry said. Residents likely won’t be happy in the short term with Kids Kastle closed, but that is best in the long run.

“You have to be realistic with a structure like this,” Curry added. “It has gone its useful life. It’s been through several floods and it served the community and the children for over two decades.”

Residents to get involved?

The effort to build Kids Kastle was led by Middletown resident Kathy Brant, who organized the campaign for a new playground in Hoffer Park. The group grew to about 200 residents who became involved in the project.

Wilsbach now hopes to see a similar grass-roots effort take hold to replace Kids Kastle with a new playground.

“Maybe that is the route to go, to see if we can’t get some legs and get something going to find the money to replace” the playground, he told council.