Meeting Nov. 20 on replacement of crumb rubber playground surface

A proposed committee will develop a plan to replace the crumb rubber underlayment at the Friday Harbor Elementary School playground.

A public meeting is scheduled Nov. 20, 6 p.m. in the Friday Harbor Elementary School cafeteria. Organizers say community support will be essential, so an advisory board will be created to assist in the development of a plan to replace the crumb rubber.

The final proposal will adhere to the following parameters set by the school board:

— Public notice must be provided that a committee is being formed and a committee chairperson experienced with project management must be selected.

— The project proposal must be comprehensive and provide detailed costs, identification of required resources, and firm commitments of any volunteer labor, equipment or materials.

— The replacement wood fiber product must provide a level of fall protection similar to that of crumb rubber.

— Comprehensive research of the proposed product must be completed and reported to identify any potential health or safety concerns.

— Any proposal drafted must be thoroughly vetted to the community for comment and input prior to Board consideration.

— A goal of zero cost to the district is to be the basis of planning.

— The project schedule must make shut down of the facility as short a time as possible.

— The district will provide the cost of necessary security fencing during the project.

The proposed committee members are Joe Cooper, Cere Demuth, Arvid Lindstrum, School Board member David McCauley, Principal Gary Pfleuger, and Maintenance and Operations Supervisor Rod Turnbull.

Residents not able to attend the meeting may contact any of the following people with questions or comments:

— Arvid Lindstrum,
— Joe Cooper,
— Cere Demuth,
— Gary Pfleuger,
— David McCauley,

The committee formation and meeting comes after a special San Juan School Board meeting Nov. 5, in which the district considered proposals for replacing the crumb rubber with a wood fiber product.

“While there is no conclusive scientific evidence that the crumb rubber is hazardous to the health of our children, I am moved by the high level of concern expressed by many of our community members during the past several meetings,” School Board Chairman Boyd Pratt said in a press release.

Fall protection, handicapped-accessibility and toxicity levels were topics expressed by about 50 residents at the school board meeting held on Oct. 29.

The board has read scores of e-mails, letters and articles received by concerned residents over the past several months. McCauley said a massive amount of resources and time have gone into reading comments and reports given by residents.

Pratt summarized board members' thoughts: “First and foremost, the health and safety of our children has been our primary concern. If the community can propose an underlayment solution that provides a similar margin of safety, the board is open to considering such a proposal.”

A petition to replace the crumb rubber was signed by 275 island residents. Signatures from four students were not included in the petition.

“We, the undersigned, oppose the use of crumb rubber at the Friday Harbor Elementary School playground," the petition states. "We consider there to be too many known and unknown health risks to young children.

"To protect the school children, the water supply, school ground and school staff, we are asking the school board to remove this underlayment immediately.”

Jennifer Deshon said her son had a severe asthmatic attack and rash on three different occasions immediately following exposure to the crumb rubber. He was forced to use a nebulizer and heavy dose of medication to improve his respiration.

“He won’t be able to go to school there because he won’t be able to breathe,” Deshon said.

Bill Arney, an Evergreen State College professor, told of the possible health effects of low-dose exposures to harmful chemicals in the crumb rubber. “We are doing a low-dose experiment on our kids,” he said.

Handicapped accessibility was a concern raised by Susan Williamson and Floyd Bourne. Williamson said access to only certain parts of the playground is unsatisfactory and unfair to children with physical challenges. Wheelchair-dependent students can access only parts of the equipment by use of trail.

“It is disrespectful to children with disabilities,” Bourne said.

Shannon Calverley said the depth of the crumb rubber doesn't meet standards. Over a period of several weeks, Calverley measured the crumb rubber depth — it ranged from 2.9 to 3.8 inches.

According to George Sushinsky, chairman of the American Society for Testing and Materials' safety committee for playground issues:

“A three- to four-inch depth of loose fill material is not sufficient for a playground surface. The latest U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission handbook recommends a minimum of nine inches of loose fill material to provide protection when material is displace or compacted. Outside of the use zone, the depth of surfacing can be less than that needed within the use zone.”

Sushinsky formerly worked for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on playground surfacing issues.

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