Damaged Waterslides Close Washington Park Playground Tower Structure
Since opening in August 2018, Washington Park’s state-of-the-art, $1.6 million playground has been filled with children filling the swings and climbing on logs and various wooden creations.
But now the tall structure with two towers leading to two slides has been cordoned off with netting and orange hazard cones, marked with a sign that reads ‘Play structure closed due to vandalism’.
“Just recently, not just one slide, but both slides had been damaged,” says Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation. “At this point, it’s not safe for people to play on it, so we have to close it.”
As department employees deal with vandalism at city facilities year-round, Washington Park’s playground, and in particular its waterslides, has been a particular target.
“I don’t know what you’re doing to prevent it, other than trying to instill personal responsibility in community members – especially, I guess, young people who think it’s a harmless prank,” says the city councillor. Paul Kasmanwhich represents the region.
In March 2021, someone vandalized and damaged the tallest slide, and Parks and Rec removed it, then returned it to Washington Park in December. In April, the little slide was vandalized – it looked like someone had taken a hammer from it – and Parks and Rec removed it for repair.
Then, on July 11, a buckling developed on the big slide. “We believe that when it was originally damaged some of the brackets were bent and they believe that could be the cause of this warping. It could be a cause and effect of the original vandalism,” says Gilmore.
With both slides out of service, Parks and Rec blocked the entire twin-tower structure.
“She’s crazy because she wants to play on it,” visitor Angelo Cascio says of his seven-year-old daughter, Talia. “This is the highest area of the park and the only confined climbing area.”
But she won’t be able to play on it anytime soon. An $11,000 replacement for the smaller slide won’t ship until mid-September.
“It’s not like going to Home Depot and buying a slide or a playset,” says Gilmore. “The smallest slide, I believe, was a factory slide. But now that company doesn’t make that slide anymore. Now we have to figure out how to fit that space without a lot of modifications.”
Supply chain issues also delayed repairs. “We’re not able to get parts and parts. We’re tinkering with things to keep our parks department running smoothly. We have a great team that does that,” Gilmore said.
But Cascio is skeptical. “I don’t think there are as many supply chain issues as the city would have you believe,” he says. “It looks like a catch-all.”
Parks and Rec may be able to fix the new issues with the big slide for around $2,700 in store, Gilmore says. If so, the department will reopen the structure and simply raise the entrance to the smaller slide until that replacement arrives. But if the big slide can’t be repaired, its replacement might not come until October at the earliest.
“Taking it out of service because of vandalism is a drag. There are certainly other more dramatic issues that we face as a community, but that’s where it’s taxpayers’ money” , says Kashmann.
Cindy Happel, a retired nurse who cares for two toddlers and takes them to the playground five days a week, says her charges miss the little slide. “The big one is too big for them,” notes Happel.
Happel has been coming to Washington Park for three decades; his two daughters, now 30 and 24, used the old playground across the park. This new one is much better, even “awesome,” she says. But at night there is not much lighting, which could be an invitation to vandalism. “It’s just meanness,” suggests Happel.
“People are like, ‘Well, set up cameras.’ I can’t put cameras everywhere,” says Gilmore. “We have cameras in parks where there’s more illegal activity, like drug dealing, violence, muggings, things like that. I only have so many resources to spend on cameras and parks .”
And he’s fed up.
“It’s really hurtful for the parks team. We’ve put so much effort into working with the community to build this and then my maintenance staff work so hard to take care of it and make sure it’s up to their standards,” concludes Gilmore. “And then someone comes along, and in fifteen to twenty minutes destroys all that work.”