Oklahoma City officials have temporarily closed seven playgrounds at city parks because of debris like roofing materials and insulation found in playing surfaces.
A material made of engineered wood fibers was recently put in at the parks by March's Mulch, a new contractor used by the city for playing surfaces, city Parks and Recreation Department Director Wendel Whisenhunt said.
Parks crews found the foreign materials Thursday morning in the wood chips, prompting officials to close the parks until the issue is resolved. The materials found in the playing surface included the insulation and roofing materials, along with pieces of metal and plastic.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we're going to close those playgrounds temporarily until we've assessed the situation,” Whisenhunt said, adding that officials aren't sure how the material became included in the playing surface, but it was not intentional.
The playgrounds will be barricaded with orange construction fencing, and signs displayed that show the park is closed.
City officials will evaluate the risks posed by the materials in the seven playgrounds before deciding how to move forward, Whisenhunt said.
The foreign materials could be removed, or the entire playing surface could be replaced.
It's impossible to estimate how long the playgrounds will be closed before city officials know what the solution will be, he added.
“Speed is not of the essence here. Safety is of the essence,” Whisenhunt said. “We'll put them back in service as quickly as possible, but not until we're sure until the potentially offending material has been removed.”
It's unclear if this will end up costing the city money.
“We don't know that for sure, but all the city's contracts require the contractor meet the specifications of the contract,” he said.
Tom March, owner of March's Mulch, said he doesn't know how the materials wound up in the wood chips, but he said it's possible a competitor upset about losing the city parks contract may be to blame.
“We have spent over $4,000 having our mulch tested, and it all tested perfect,” March said. “We feel like if there's something wrong with our mulch, somebody has either dumped something on it, sabotaged it or whatever.”
AT A GLANCE
Oklahoma City's 7 Temporarily closed playgrounds