Earliest Dysart will be able to replace playground equipment is in 2023
By Darren Lum
Head Lake Park is going to go without its playground structure located nearest to York Street the rest of this year since it was closed off from the public due to safety concerns related to it reaching the end of its life early last week.
This situation has resulted in an outcry from parents and guardians with young children, who are questioning the priorities of the Municipality of Dysart et al.
Mother of two young daughters, Angelica Ingram, who lives a short drive from Haliburton and works in the village was upset at learning of the closure early last week on Facebook.
She recognizes the challenges of replacing the playground equipment, which includes budget constraints, and supply chain issues.
“However, I feel as though this was a poorly planned out approach. When council was first informed by Andrea Mueller [town recreation coordinator] in the fall that this playground structure was no longer safe and that they couldn’t get replacement parts [well, that was] 10 months ago. That’s when the wheels should have started on a replacement plan,” she said. “If you want to take it further than that, a replacement plan should have been in motion when that playground equipment was installed because everything has a lifespan. Roads has a life span. Infrastructure has a life span.”
The former reporter, who covered Dysart council, adds when roads are added there are long-term plans and allowance in the budget for replacement.
Since the reaction, which was known through contact to the town and posted comments on Facebook where the township posted a photo of the playground equipment showing it was closed, the township is moving towards discussion towards possible action.
This recent development didn’t provide enough time for a staff report to be filed for today’s (June 28) council meeting said Mayor Andrea Roberts. She will raise the matter during her mayor’s report though. Roberts said it’s really only bad timing.
“First of all, it’s very, very unfortunate. I am having my almost four-year-old grandson come the first week of July, and I know how important that park is for myself. So, unfortunately, it’s one of those things where we thought that repairs could be made. It’s been on the radar for replacement, but when it was investigated it was found that the repairs were not possible and it would be unsafe, and that’s our first priority. So, it’s really bad timing,” she said.
Roberts compared this situation to when the A.J. LaRue Arena’s ice plant system had a brine leak, which required repairs and how it was not expected despite staff monitoring.
“When it went, it went,” she said.
The township is considering two options, she said since council has yet to enter its “lame duck” period in July. Relevant to this situation, the lame duck period is the time close to a municipal election when council cannot make any expenditure or incur any liability exceeding $50,000.
“We can still direct, send and authorize funds. We did not put anything in our budget for 2022 for that particular area, but we do have reserves, not necessarily for playground equipment, but development in general,” Roberts said.
This, combined with fundraising efforts would preclude the need for a grant, which was what delayed replacement before.
“If we wait for a grant, we may not get one, so it’s going to be in council in July,” she said, referring to the presentation of a staff report.
If an order is made this summer, the replacement isn’t likely ready until 2023. This is what happened with the township’s newest play structure, the “Zoom Twist” installed this past week on the Rotary Beach side of the park. It resembles a netted merry-go-round with the circular portion (raised off the ground) at the base and the cables converging to a centre pole.
Roberts said this situation can be a blessing in disguise.
“It’s an extremely well used park, but there’s also maybe an opportunity to match it with our Head Lake Park Master Plan and determine a better location … for the playground equipment actually get moved back,” she said.
She adds with the nearby garden beds that have not fared well as of late there is little shade provided, so one consideration is to find a new location for the equipment.
The factors that went into how repairs were determined on the playground structure close to the end of the lifespan is expected in a staff report given at a regular council meeting in July, Roberts said.
“No one was anticipating finding the problems that they found. We’ll see what those actually are in the staff report,” she said.
Ingram said it’s a foregone conclusion that everything has a lifespan and priorities need to be made.
“No playground is going to last forever, so when that playground was installed, however many years ago, there should have been planning in place for the future and replacement and now it seems it has caught them off guard and yet they’re going to sit back and talk about a 10 to 20 year master plan and about getting grants and not have the funding, but it’s the only playground in our town,” she said.
Options for children is lacking here, she said, and it is has noting to do with the size of it.
She noted in neighbouring communities such as Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon there are brand new parks and splash pads for children. She believes they plan the town with children and families in mind.
“I feel like sometimes this town doesn’t,” she said.
Roberts is looking at this situation as an opportunity to garner public support for fundraising and input on a new playground structure.
“So, let’s have some public input about what the kids want with the moms and dads along with the caregivers want before a purchase is made. But we will have to be making a decision on it in July,” she said.
She noted there are playground structures available throughout Dysart such as in West Guilford, Eagle Lake and Haliburton Lake. Roberts said any perceived greater use of the equipment during the pandemic wasn’t a factor in its deterioration, but rather typical wear and tear and exposure to the elements.
“As far as not budgeting for a replacement this year, Roberts defended the town’s position about not being able to predict the future.
“Like I said, if somebody has a crystal ball … we all have these things even in our own home and you think, well I’ll just go and do this repair because this should last a few more years,” she said.
She believes this situation could yield a better playground [structure] with the cost starting at $100,000. She adds the park still has other features such as the beach and the incoming equipment.
“Hey, we did without an arena for a year and a half and that affected a lot of people, so we sadly will have to do that without the playground equipment at Head Lake Park for 2022,” she said.