Building committee nixes rubber for playgrounds

At the June 6 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Environmental Affairs Director Mike Conklin recommended any new playgrounds to be built in Wilton be built with wood fiber material wood chips as opposed to poured-in-place rubber surfaces. Conklin said it was the recommendation of the Conservation Commission, as well as that of his department as environmental adviser to the Board of Selectmen.

Acting on that suggestion, which was presented to the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee by First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice, the committee approved two new playgrounds for the renovated school that contain only a small rubber component. The committee approved an expenditure of not more than $280,000 for pre-K and K-2 playgrounds at its meeting on June 9.

The committee considered two options presented by playground consultant Peter R. Wallace. The first was a hybrid of wood chips and rubber, with the rubber in “kick-out” areas under swing sets, and all rubber in the pre-K area. With the equipment presented, this option would cost $297,000 plus $20,000 for stone and drain work under the rubber surface.

The second option included the rubber surface for the pre-K area, and all wood chips in the second playground at a cost of $304,000. The money that would be saved by eliminating rubber under the swings — about $20,000 — was applied to additional equipment.

Both the wood and rubber surfaces are ADA-approved products, Wallace said, and neither has a safety advantage if maintained properly. Pre-K staff had requested an all-rubber surface for the playground because they do exercises with the children involving wheels, said committee member Gretchen Jeanes. To accommodate that request, the committee stipulated the figure 8 “racetrack” included in Wallace’s design remain made of rubber as part of the pre-K kindergarten. The rest of the pre-K playground will have a wood chip surface.

At the Board of Selectmen meeting Conklin said of the poured-in-place rubber, “From an environmental standpoint, there can be long- and short-term impacts to groundwater or surface water from runoff from these surfaces. Zinc, for example, is one chemical pollutant that can leach from these surfaces into these areas,” he said.

Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce was also at the meeting and explained that the overall cost of maintaining a wood fiber playground is lower than the cost of keeping a rubber playground because of rubber’s finite life cycle.

“It requires more maintenance,” Pierce said of the wood chips. “You have to rake it back, you have to bring in new, and you have to remove it when it becomes compacted, but over the life of the product, you’re talking a huge increase in the cost of a poured-in-place playground versus wood fiber on a playground.”

“The cost associated with [a poured-in-place playground] is more expensive out the door. There’s about a 10- to 12-year life expectancy on that, and when you take that out, you’re basically taking out the entire playground,” Pierce said.
—Hayden Turek contributed to this article