Closed for now

The play structure at Gold Beach’s Buffington Park remains closed as the ongoing pandemic keeps city officials under the pressure of state COVID-19 requirements.

During a city council meeting Monday, city officials and a city resident discussed possibilities for seeing the Kid Kastle reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, but didn’t yet come to a resolution to make that happen.

“It’s just hard right now, with all of the COVID restrictions, there’s so many things we can’t do,” City Administrator Jodi Fritts told counselors and attendees during the meeting. “The big thing for myself and (Public Works) Superintendent (Will) Newdall is that our job is risk management for the city. Our insurance company does not cover claims like this, and they were very specific.”

Those COVID restrictions are the Oregon Health Authority’s pandemic requirements for outdoor recreation facilities, which includes “public outdoor areas” like Buffington Park.

As Fritts explained, those requirements mandate the city ensure playground users wear masks and maintain social distance while using the facility. Fritts said that means the city would have to assign a monitor to the area.

The regulations also require the city to clean the park’s restrooms twice a day.

Both the cleaning and monitoring are too much for city staff to do on top of existing city maintenance and operations work, Fritts said.

“Maintaining our water and sewer service is our highest priority,” Fritts said. “It’s not that we haven’t looked at options or what could we do, it’s just that we don’t have the staff to comply with the law.”

The rest of the park (aside from the Kid Kastle, the restrooms and the pavilion) remains open during the pandemic.

The conversation came during an agenda item on the topic requested by Kelly Timchak, a city resident. Addressing the council, Timchak noted other cities in the area were able to keep their parks open.

“Obviously, there are other people that are doing it. I would like to find out if they’re doing it in a safe manner, or what their workaround is,” Timchak said. “It just seems that there are a lot of other playgrounds that are open.”

The length of the playground’s closure, which continues as the pandemic drags on, has been frustrating for families, Timchak said.

“This is a really important piece of our community,” Timchak said. “It’s the gem of the community for families.”

Still, Fritts said she wasn’t sure how other cities were able to do it, but that the city had been advised against opening the playground and possibly opening itself up to legal claims as a result.

Some city councilors echoed Timchak’s concerns, saying the city should look into ways to reopen the structure without violating state legal restrictions.

“I too believe that this is a resource that I would like to see open,” Councilor Summer Matteson said. “I’m pretty much willing to support anything that makes that happen.”

That could include looking into the city’s liability insurance options or using coronavirus grant funds to pay for cleaning and monitoring, Matteson said.

Councilor Becky Campbell added that the city should find a way to open the structure, but make sure to dot I’s and cross T’s first.

“I do think it’s a valuable part of our community,” Campbell said. “But the cop in me wants to follow the rules.”

Fritts said city staff would consult with legal counsel to try and find a way to reopen the structure in line with state guidance.

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