The village’s insurance company bowed to public pressure last week, allowing three playgrounds it condemned last year to stand.
Albany-based New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal (NYMIR) had ordered the village to replace the playgrounds at Seamon Park, the Village Beach and Cantine Field because they were not up to current safety standards. The estimated cost was $250,000. The village was gearing up for a lengthy fundraising campaign and preparing to close the playgrounds last week when representatives from NYMIR contacted the village to work something out.
According to village officials, the company had been embarrassed by the negative publicity created by articles and letters in Saugerties Times and on the paper’s website, which saw scores of Saugertiesians bemoaning the prescribed destruction of playgrounds enjoyed safely by generations of children as evidence of a litigious society run amok. “When did insurance companies become the dictators of safety and fun?” ran one typical comment.
NYMIR’s report had called for the elimination of every other swing on the swing sets so that children wouldn’t swing into each other. It also called for the eight-foot tall jungle gyms to be cut down to four-feet tall and the creation of padded landing surfaces instead of grass.
But on Monday, Feb. 4, NYMIR’s representatives walked it all back. They recommended upgrades, but would insure the village whether they were made or not.
The only piece of equipment that will have to come down is the wooden structure at the Lions Club playground adjacent to Cantine Field, which the company said was “just too unsafe.”
The village plans to channel the community spirit evoked by the calls for donations in recent weeks to hold a cleanup day in May. It will also spend village money over the next several years making improvements.
The playground saga began last year when the village was dropped by long-time carrier Trident Insurance Company. There were too many claims against the village. (The mayor corrected past reports that the claims were mainly a result of DPW snow plows — he said there were a number of claims, including people falling on village property and suing, tree limbs falling on vehicles, and a police officer who years ago fell while running out to the lighthouse and broke his arm, although no claims were filed because of accidents or injuries caused by the “unsafe” playground equipment.) The village signed with NYMIR last year and an inspector issued a report in the fall detailing the playgrounds’ shortcomings, which the village understood would have to be corrected or it would be dropped from the policy. (NYMIR told the village last week that wasn’t necessarily the case, but officials stand by their understanding of the report.)
But for now, none of that matters. Spring is nearly here and Saugerties children will have a place to play in the village — three in fact — a happy ending if ever there was one.