Dangerous playground at Cook Elementary prompts repairs

Cook Elementary School playground
Cook Elementary School playground (Lindsay Bramson/KXAXN News)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A local school playground that was deemed dangerous by the city of Austin and under construction for a year will re-open on Friday.

Since last year the main playground at Cook Elementary School in North Austin has been closed while crews built a new one. But there are still at least 9 other playgrounds school officials say are in need of repairs. Right now Pillow Elementary School is also under construction. KXAN found out how often playgrounds are inspected and what’s being done to make sure they’re safe.

Nicole Bueno has been eager to bring her 1st grade students back out to the playground. She’s been a teacher at Cook Elementary for 4 years.

“Being able to see the bright colors and fences down… it looks fantastic,” said Bueno.

She says the old playground was dangerous, especially the cracks in the foundation that surround the equipment. “Kids were falling constantly and scraping themselves but this nice smooth foundation will be safer. It looks better,” said Bueno.

Some teachers say the old playground had swings that wouldn’t stay in place along with metal poles that had rust all along the bottom of them. These are just a few of the issues teachers thought made it unsafe for kids.

Paul Turner oversees facilities for the Austin Independent School District. He says school playgrounds are inspected twice a month. When the complaints came pouring in from the Cook Elementary Community, AISD along with Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the Austin Parks Foundation found the $150,000 it cost to fix it.

They heard the concerns of the teachers and they took it off limits because they didn’t want people playing on it. Anytime there’s any sort of issue like that it has to be addressed,” said Turner.

And now teachers like Bueno are happy it’s not only fixed but safe once again for the kids.The playground at Cook Elementary School will officially open tomorrow with a ceremony at the school. That ceremony begins at 2 p.m. The Austin Parks and Recreation Department will be there along with Austin City Council member Greg Casar.

There are more than 150 playgrounds at elementary schools throughout Austin. Over the summer Hill and Graham Elementary Schools also received new playgrounds.

The other 9 elementary schools on the list to receive upgrades in the future are:

  • Barrington Elementary School
  • Barton Hills Elementary School
  • Zilker Elementary School
  • Lucy Read Pre-K Center
  • Norman Elementary School
  • Brykerwoods Elementary School
  • Pillow Elementary School
  • Sanchez Elementary School
  • St. Elmo Elementary School

In 2012, KXAN found another danger on Austin school playgrounds. There was coal-tar sealant on asphalt at seven AISD elementary schools including Doss, Williams, Summitt, Pleasant Hill, Linder, Hart and Campbell. It drew concern for its impact on the environment and potential cancer risk. Once we got involved, the district covered the substance at four schools and removed it completely from three others. It cost between $5,000 and $30,000 per campus. But the school district also had about 60 parking with the substance. In 2012, officials told us it would cost a lot more to renovate those lots.

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