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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2001

Nature dooms imaginative play areas

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward Bureau

KAILUA — Playgrounds with dragons, sharks and wooden boats are falling victim to nature and termites, leaving only the memory of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of donations that created imaginative play areas for many O'ahu students.

Kids enjoy playground structures at Aikahi Elementary School, which has one of the few remaining intact playgrounds designed by Jimi Jolley, a Texas playground designer. The Aikahi PTA has a committee that ensures upkeep of the site.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

This week the remnants of the Kailua and Lanikai elementary schools' playgrounds, created by the late Texas playground designer Jimi Jolley, were hauled away, leaving only four of the seven originally built on O'ahu intact.

School officials say the equipment could not keep up with evolving state Department of Education safety standards. The structures, made of wood, tires, woodchips and sand, had also become weather-worn and termite-eaten after four years.

When most of the playgrounds were built in 1997, they were considered an inexpensive way to equip schools — $10,000 to $20,000 versus the $100,000 the DOE expects to spend today for a conventional playground. Jolley charged a $1,000 flat fee for the playground design and $75 an hour to supervise construction. The community was expected to raise money and build the structures.

"It was sad because so much went into it when we put it up," said Heidi Smith, parent community networking coordinator at Lanikai. Termite damage and safety regulations were the main reasons for taking down the playground in June, she said.

"We would have to put railings around everything," Smith said. "So many things were not up to standard, we decided instead of trying to save it, we would take it out and start over."

A structure at 'Ahuimanu Elementary School in Kane'ohe's Temple Valley gave way to wet weather and wood rot after less than two years.

Four other designs — at Aikahi Elementary School, Castle Medical Center and Sunshine School, all in Kailua, and at Bishop Museum — are doing well under regular maintenance.

But that was expected, said Celia Waihee, director of Castle's child development center. Jolley provided a list of things to expect and precautions, including drilling holes in the tires to avoid water build-up and mosquito infestation.

The Aikahi PTA allots money regularly and has a committee to ensure the upkeep of the site, said Cheryl McCraw, the school's vice principal.

The school continues to receive donations. This year, Hawaiian Electric Co. replaced two poles for free.

The safety issues at Aikahi have been addressed, McCraw said. The playground has been inspected by safety experts, who asked that some of the pieces be shut down.

Kailua and Lanikai are planning for new equipment that could take anywhere from three months to two years to obtain and install. Costs will vary according to how much equipment and safety surface material are needed. Lanikai is looking at a $50,000 project in which the surface material would cost about $20,000.

The DOE will pay for the equipment, but the wait can be up to two years after a school applies, said Alexis Kane, vice principal at Kailua Elementary. She says she hopes the school can find grants and raise money to get equipment sooner.

"We have a very ambitious committee of parents and staff members," Kane said. "I'm hopeful we'll see something sooner than that two-year wait."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.