I sincerely hope voters will approve funds at Town Meeting to replace the wooden play structure at Hannah Williams Park and Playground – but for the right reasons, not out of greatly over-stated concerns put forth by a fear-mongerer who bloviates about remote dangers.

Sorry, am I overstating? Well… let’s see. The declaration printed in last week’s Wayland Town Crier guest column called the situation at Hannah Williams “the most important item on next month’s Town Meeting agenda,” and said “it is literally a matter of life and death.” So, who’s over the top here?

Since the first moment DPW Director Don Ouellette announced plans to seek funds to rebuild the Hannah Williams Park and Playground, Tom Sciacca has been whipping around the inflammatory phrase that the playground is “arsenic laced.” He has repeated this scary but imprecise charge over and over every chance he gets. He makes it sound ominous, important and scientific. To me, it sounds like a child who wants attention. I think the voters of Wayland are smarter than to fall for that!

The smallest grain of truth in Sciacca’s indictment of the playground is that it was constructed with wood (in 1986 or so, some 25 years ago) that likely, although not known for sure, was infused with a preservative containing arsenic. Wood treated in this manner was voluntarily phased out of use – at least for playgrounds – in 2003 by all manufacturers. Existing wood products were never recalled or ordered removed from public spaces.

Keys to any potential danger are the amount of contact and amount of ingestion. A child would have to have significant (lengthy and frequent) contact with fresh, treated wood, then would have to ingest anything rubbed off on the skin – aka lick their fingers – to be in any danger. Significant absorption through the skin is very unlikely in any case. The danger from contact, transfer and ingestion from the surface of 25 year old, weathered wood is, well, very remote.

Considering the years, virtually all preservative has long ago leeched out of the surface. And further, EPA tests have shown regular wood sealant treatments (which have been done at Hannah Williams) are effective in preventing contact.
And finally, the work of the Friends of Hannah Williams Playground to repair and reopen the play structure in 2000 minimized if not nearly eliminated contact with the arsenic-treated wood by replacing or covering handrails, seats and more with post-consumer recycled plastic board and railings.

None of this, of course, was considered in the accusatory comments made by Mr. Sciacca who seems intent on peddling fear.
Let’s talk about the real reasons to engage in replacing the play structure and improving the park! This awesome gift of open space in the heart of a commercial district is precious, and the aim is to make the entire experience of visiting the park and playground safer and more enjoyable.

The current proposal is to make it safer, easier to maintain, and better integrated with the rest of the park and the surrounding community. Right now, the park area suffers from poor, unsafe access to limited parking which is huddled up against the fence for the play area. The current plan calls for moving the cars away from the play structure – which means less exhaust and less danger of kids running off into a parking area.

Moving the parking means people will have to walk across the parkland to reach the play area… better integrating and using the full scope of the space.

Redoing the entire park in one effort will better unite the spaces, provide walkways through and around, and eliminate the swale or mound or ridge between the park and playground.

And, the plan calls for a variety of additional activities at the park – from adult exercise equipment to better benches and play areas, gardens, water fountain – all with the aim of making it attractive to a number of age ranges!

Let’s replace the Hannah Williams playground and redo the park for the right reasons, not out of unfounded fears.

Cliff Kolovson
26 Garden Path
Organizer of Friends of Hannah Williams Playground
www.hannahwilliams.org