Dangerous playgrounds at TUSD closed schools that kids can access

News Release

February 5, 2015
Dangerous playgrounds at TUSD closed schools that kids can access


Our 9OYS investigation of unsafe Tucson playgrounds has expanded since our original reporting.

Our three-month investigation has revealed serious neglect of playground equipment at several schools -- all around the Tucson Unified School District.

We looked into playground safety after a mother sued the district for 23 million dollars after her son was seriously injured falling off a slide.

And when 9OYS revealed the safety hazards to a school board member and a playground safety inspector, they could not believe their eyes.

Jagged concrete slabs --
Broken slides -- 
Protruding rocks -- 
Exposed rusted nails --  
Trashed doors --
Unlocked gates -- 
All hazards we discovered on TUSD school grounds across Tucson.

Our investigation started at Townsend Middle School in midtown back in October. Although the school is permanently closed -- the gate was wide open -- and there were no signs you can't play there. And KGUN9 reported in November -- a danger hidden just below the surface at the end of a slide -- protruding rocks.

We had asked TUSD about the hazardous playground and got this answer from Nicole Lowery of Risk Management.

"Students aren't actively playing at the closed schools. Our schools are closed and the properties secured. And people shouldn't be on the campuses."

KGUN9 reporter Valerie Cavazos checked back over two months and each time found no change. So Cavazos asked TUSD Board member Mark Stegeman to meet her there.

Cavazos: We've come back here 5 times -- this gate is open. 
Stegeman: You don't mean just unlocked? 
Cavazos: It's always open.

We walked around the playground equipment and Cavazos showed him -- a broken slide.

Cavazos: Look at this -- right here.. A kid comes sliding down this fall -- look at this rock -- exposed. 
Stegeman: Yeah. Absolutely.
Stegeman: I think it's very strange, especially after what happened at Fruchthendler.

He's talking about east side's Fruchthendler Elementary, where a young student, Trevor Pahl,   hit his head on a concrete slab after falling off a playground slide during recess -- in 2013. Trevor underwent emergency brain surgery.

His parents are suing TUSD for 23 million dollars claiming the district knew the playground was not properly maintained.

I showed Stegeman the same hidden danger that lurks *below the surface -- that we had reported.

Stegeman: Oh, that's terrible.

Cavazos: See here again -- rock -- so it's all over the place. 
Stegeman: This is really nuts.

A broken slide -- a hazardous concrete slab -- protruding rocks.

Cavazos: Do you think this is dangerous? 
Stegeman: I think anybody would say that this is a safety hazard.

Stegeman followed us to another closed east side school -- Lyons Elementary -- the playground borders a public park.

Again -- a gate -- wide open -- no padlock. And Stegeman spotted a problem right away.

Stegeman: Oh gosh, right here.

More exposed concrete under monkey bars and also near a larger playground set.

Stegeman: You shouldn't be having sharp exposed concrete corners. I think the one over there is the worst.

Cavazos asked a Certified Playground Safety Inspector from Phoenix to meet her at Lyons Elementary. Carissa Thomasson agrees -- the exposed concrete -- is a hazard. 

"We definitely don't want concrete is the play area because of hitting their head and tripping on it or falling on it. So It's pretty dangerous," said Thomasson.

And we found more dangers at other closed schools.

At Ft. Lowell Elementary in midtown -- we found severed tape on hanging bars.
And at Keen on the south side, chunks of jagged concrete under monkey bars.
If that wasn't bad enough at east side's Reynolds Elementary doors lean against monkey bars.
The top of the playground slide is partly detached -- and the bottom of the slide -- sits on the ground.
Several yards away sit wooden boxes with large rusted nails sticking out.
Thomason examined the playground set. The inside of the slide is cracked -- and at the top -- "Up here we have a entanglement point. If you think about a sweatshirt with the cords on it. Any place that could get stuck is an entanglement -- a choking hazard on a slide," said Thomason.

Cavazos: "So on a scale of 1 to 10 then -- how dangerous is this playground set."
Stegeman: "I think it's at a 10. I wouldn't let my children play on it.'

But people do and they access school grounds.

We caught two adults on the equipment with a little boy playing close by. At Townsend -- a man walked his dog during the day -- and youth soccer teams practiced on the fields at night.

And three little girls played on the playground set at Lyons Elementary. Cavazos asked their mom if they play there often.

Gloria Canez: 3 or 4 times a week. 
Cavazos: Did you know you're not supposed to be here? 
Canez: No. 
Cavazos: You did not know? 
Canez: No.> 

She said she didn't know because the gate is open all the time and there are no signs.

Cavazos: Right here there is jagged concrete exposed. Did you know that's not safe? 
Canez: No, I didn't know that.

Let's go back to what TUSD'S Risk Management stated. 

"Our schools are closed and the properties are secured."
No, we found 5 out of the 9 closed schools with playgrounds are not secured.

"Students aren't actively playing at the closed schools"
Yes, kids -- and adults -- do even if the gates are locked.

"People shouldn't be on the campuses."
True, but it doesn't mean the district won't be held liable if a child is hurt.

The reason -- a tort law called attractive nuisance. Let's face it -- kids love playgrounds.

"The number one attractive nuisance would be playground equipment. It's designed to attract children," said attorney Sarah Showard.

The law states if an owner -- in this case the district -- keeps dangerous playground equipment on a property, puts up no trespassing signs. and locks the gate -- the owner is still responsible if a child plays on it and gets hurt.

Showard says TUSD can't simply say -- the child shouldn't have been on the property. "I think it would be difficult to secure this property, so the better alternative might be to remove that equipment."

In other words -- remove the attractive nuisance. The certified playground safety inspector agrees.
"If you can't maintain any playground structure, I would recommend removal," said Thomasson.

A week and a half after Cavazos met with Board Member Mark Stegeman -- a development.
KGUN9 returned to Townsend Middle School, where once again the gate was wide open, but the playground was been completely removed -- one out of 5 playgrounds with dangerous equipment.

KGUN9 reached out to Tucson Unified School District on Monday and received this response Thursday night.

"The equipment was removed this week from the Ft. Lowell/Townsend campus due to the fact that it was easily accessible. It has been placed at another campus with a brand new slide. This decision was made prior to the district being contacted by KGUN. When KGUN alerted us this afternoon (Thursday) that Reynolds was not secure, our Risk Management Director went to the closed campus herself and locked all of the locks."

KGUN9 will be following the situation and keep you updated on any developments.

List of TUSD closed schools that KGUN9 checked:

Corbett Elementary | Gates locked
5949 E 29th St, Tucson, AZ 85711 

Ft. Lowell Elementary | Gates open
5151 E Pima St, Tucson, AZ 85712 

Keen Elementary | Gates open
3538 E Ellington Pl Tucson, Arizona 85713 

Lyons Elementary | Gates open
7555 E Dogwood St, Tucson, AZ 85730 

Menlo Park Elementary | Gates locked
1100 W Fresno St, Tucson, AZ 85745  

Reynolds Elementary | Gates open
7450 E Stella Rd, Tucson, AZ 85730 

Townsend Elementary | Gates open
2120 N Beverly Ave, Tucson, AZ 85712 

Van Horne Elementary | Gates closed
7550 E Pima St, Tucson, AZ 85715 

Wrightstown Elementary | Gates closed
8950 E Wrightstown Rd, Tucson, AZ 85715

Read the article, here