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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 16, 2002

Delayed playgrounds move forward

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

The state Department of Education has missed two deadlines on school playgrounds but says it will have equipment installed by mid-July at all 84 schools on its list.

And officials say 17 more schools will eventually get playgrounds thanks to money saved on the first installations.

Thirty-four school playgrounds have been completed, a big improvement over the two done by January but well short of the 69 promised by March 25.

Replacement has been a long time coming; three years have elapsed since playgrounds were yanked out of schools after DOE officials realized they didn't meet new federal safety guidelines.

"We had projected a certain number to be done by the end of March," said Patricia Hamamoto, state schools superintendent. "But inclement weather (caused some delays) ... and a number of schools have asked us to defer until the summer. We have gone through a whole lot of challenges with the timeline.

"It's moving along."

Thirty-eight playgrounds are under way and 12 are supposed to start this month or next, including seven that are being built as a joint partnership with the federal government at schools on military bases, said Hamamoto.

The 84 playgrounds are more than the original number the department figured it could build with the $4.5 million that the Legislature appropriated for playgrounds, Hamamoto said. Partnerships with the federal government and others added 15 schools to the list.

And because the new playgrounds, foundations and soft rubber surfaces are costing about $43,000 each, rather than the $50,000 originally budgeted, the department's facilities branch will be able to install 17 more playgrounds, Hamamoto said. That work won't begin until after playgrounds are completed at the first 84 schools.

Reacting to public outcry, the Legislature appropriated money over the past couple of years to spend on playground equipment and installation of the soft rubber surface underneath. The appropriations will lapse in 2004.

The timeline was set last year by the department's facilities maintenance division, which told lawmakers that it would be able to complete 39 playgrounds by the end of 2001 and 69 by March 25. The revised timeline calls for all 84 playgrounds to be completed by

July 19, with installation of many to begin after school lets out in June.

"The numbers change on a daily basis because our latest slab work is moving quickly," said Ken Kajihara, a state Department of Education facilities planner, in a written statement.

DOE officials have blamed the lag on construction delays they said are typical of such installations.

Because the replacement process has been so lengthy, some schools and parent groups took it upon themselves to purchase and install playground equipment.

At Kamiloiki Elementary School in Hawai'i Kai, parents raised about $30,000 and used it to pay for the concrete pad that goes underneath the playground equipment and the department is allowing the school to spend all $50,000 on a play apparatus. It is one of the schools listed as having its playground under way, according to the DOE list.

The equipment is on order, said Maria Kostylo, Kamiloiki Playground Safety Committee chairwoman. Once the equipment arrives, the school, with the help of the community, will install it and the rubber surface, she said. She's hoping that will happen before the next school year, Kostylo said.

"This will be our second playground," Kostylo said. "We've been waiting how many years for this. Quite a few kids will be gone by the time it goes in. We're excited for the future students."

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com or 395-8831.