Rotorua Lakes Council has decided to fight playground vandalism with sand and seating.
In a letter sent to Pukehangi residents, the council announced its decision to replace the bark surface at vandalism-plagued Aorangi Reserve playground with sand.
The letter, signed by Rotorua Lakes Council recreation and open spaces manager Julianne Wilkinson said seating would also be added to the reserve, away from the playground.
"We are hoping that vandalism does not continue to happen as this may result in further reassessment about the future of the playground," Wilkinson said in the letter.
The playground on Susan St was fenced off by the council in April because of repeated vandalism.
Jagged and sharp pieces of broken glass were being found in the playground's bark.
The Rotorua Lakes Council had also received multiple reports of broken glass found on the playgrounds at Turner Drive, Wrigley Rd, High St and in Hannahs Bay Reserve over the past few years.
Wilkinson's letter focused on the playground on Susan St, recognising its closure "due to ongoing vandalism" with new glass being found daily in the bark.
The letter said community responses and feedback from local school students had been considered before the decision was made.
Sand was "a more affordable option" for a playground safety surface that would also be easier to maintain.
When the Rotorua Daily Post asked for the cost of replacing bark with sand, the council's sport, recreation and environment manager Rob Pitkethley did not provide a figure.
"The initial cost to replace the existing safety surface with bark or sand is similar, however the ongoing costs to maintain the sand and keep it clean means it is a better longer-term option," Pitkethley said.
Pitkethley previously told the Rotorua Daily Post that possible solutions such as alternative playground surfaces, and a temporary security camera had been considered.
Both options, however, were also said to be vandalism-prone and costly.
Replacing the bark with rubber mats came with a price tag of $57,000.
The council had already spent $18,000 in 2019 and $15,000 in 2017 to replace the bark at the Susan St playground.
"Sand requires little top-up to maintain the required level of safety surface, and debris or rubbish can be more easily identified and cleared away."
Pitkethley said there was a clear indication from the community that the playground was valued and well used by younger families in the area.
"Greater community use encourages a sense of community ownership which helps to deter negative behaviours that spoil it for everyone. The sand also provides additional imaginative and creative play opportunities for tamariki to shape, mould and create things."
Pitkethley said the planned separate seating would give youths using the reserve their own space.
"The play equipment seems to be a hangout space for youth and with no other option in the reserve, this is a logical location for them to do this.
"It was suggested that a space for youth be created separately so they have an area to socialise, and the playground will be available for younger children to use."
Aorangi Primary School principal Debra Harrod said she herself had not been part of consultations around replacing the playground surface.
"A team from Rotorua Lakes Council did come and speak to the children about what they would like to see in playgrounds in general and the kinds of activities they like. Our kids gave them lots of ideas around that."
Harrod was surprised by the proposed solution.
"I'm not sure about sand. You would think with sand people could still come around and put broken glass in it. Now, why they would want to do that escapes me.
"I would have thought a kind of foam surface would be preferred. I understand the council can't afford to keep replacing the bark indefinitely."
When asked if sand would be used to replace bark surfaces at other playgrounds, Pitkethley said each playground would be assessed separately with feedback from the surrounding community.
Pitkethley said the council hoped to be able to reopen the playground this summer.