Stratford Landing playground structure no longer to be off-limits to Fairfax students

Michael S. Williamson/THE WASHINGTON POST - Seeking fun and challenging playground equipment for the children, the PTA of Stratford Landing Elementary School raised $35,000 to buy a new play structure for the school. After a Fairfax County Public Schools safety inspector reviewed it, the structure was deemed unsafe and officials ordered it removed. Parents and school officials have now reached a compromise.

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A Fairfax County elementary school playground structure will no longer be off-limits to students after a school district official announced Wednesday that a dispute over the apparatus had been resolved.

The decision means that students at Stratford Landing Elementary School will soon be able to use the apparatus during recess. Jeffrey Platenberg, assistant superintendent for facilities, reversed an administration ruling requiring the removal of the $35,000 structure, which the school’s Parent Teacher Association installed after extensive fundraising.

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“It has been a long and drawn-out process, and I’m relieved,” said Sara Powell, a PTA member and the mother of two third- and sixth-graders at Stratford Landing. “I’m happy that they wanted to work with us to do what’s best for the school.”

Platenberg’s decision ends a four-month dispute between parents and school administrators. The structure — which includes soaring metal beams and a spider web of climbing net — has been cordoned off with yellow caution tape since November, when school officials declared it dangerous and ordered its removal. School officials said they wanted to prevent injuries and avoid any lawsuits. The structure had been installed just days earlier.

The PTA said it had followed the school system’s strict guidelines for buying the equipment. But school officials countered that “miscommunication” between the parents and the system’s facilities department led to the structure being improperly installed. They said the Landscape Structures Evos system is not on the school district’s list of approved playground equipment.

Fairfax County School Board member Daniel G. Storck, whose Mount Vernon district includes Stratford Landing, stepped in to help mediate the debate.

Platenberg, who became head of the facilities department this year after the December retirement of Dean Tistadt, began reviewing the parents’ complaint in January.

In a message to PTA members Wednesday, Platenberg wrote that he was “pleased to be able to share with you that we have identified a resolution for the Stratford Landing Elementary School Playground issue.”

His plan calls for the new equipment to remain in place, except for one part, a rotating spin-top mechanism called the Gyro Twister. Platenberg wrote that small modifications will be made to the equipment to improve overall safety and that the facilities department will renovate the playground to bring it into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Once the updates are completed, the playground will reopen to Stratford Landing’s 870 students, Platenberg wrote.

“I want to be gracious, but it was like banging our heads against the bricks,” PTA member Eleanor Whitaker said of the long process. She noted that the project still could take several months to complete.

 
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