The shredded tire mulch at East Durham Park will be replaced after parent concerns about possible health hazards, but the mayor and Durham City Council members disagreed on where to get the money for it and whether or not to do it at all.
An Environmental Protection Agency report on rubber mulch won't be out until later this year. Parks and Recreation staff wanted to wait for the report, as did Mayor Steve Schewel.
Parent Kristin Henry pushed for replacing all rubber playground surfacing, not just shredded rubber mulch, but the City Council voted to replace the shredded tire mulch only at a cost of $20,000. East Durham Park is the only Durham park with the mulch. Several parks have bonded rubber surfacing under playground equipment.
The $20,000 cost to replace the rubber mulch with engineered wood fiber, which looks like wood chips, has to come from somewhere, so Parks and Recreation recommended delaying repairs to the Pineywood Park soccer field by a year. But a council majority decided to get the money from the city's general fund instead of the Parks and Recreation budget.
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Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton compared the decision to taking money from a savings account.
"I don’t raid my savings account unless I absolutely have to," he said. Middleton said he supported replacing the rubber mulch, but by using Parks and Recreation funds since it is a parks project.
Council member DeDreana Freeman has led the effort to remove the rubber mulch from the playground on East Main Street and replace it with wood fiber. She said the city could look at all rubber surfacing in Durham parks in the future.
Durham Parks and Recreation assistant director Thomas Dawson said they recommended delaying the Pineywood Park soccer field because "there’s a finite amount of money" and the issue there is about playability, not safety. The field has grading and drainage problems.
Schewel didn't want the rubber mulch replaced until the EPA report, assuming it showed scientific evidence of it being hazardous.
"I think we’re making a questionable decision," he said.
Council member Javiera Caballero was absent Monday, but emailed other council members on Monday that she supported paying for the mulch replacement with money from the general fund rather than Parks and Recreation.