Cape May school board weighs opening playground to public

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CAPE MAY – Cape May’s school board plans to ask the city government to manage the school playground on weekday evenings and weekends so it can be opened to the public.

“To my knowledge, the playground was never officially open to the public,” said school business administrator John Thomas. “I think in the past, and certainly prior to the Sandy Hook (Elementary School) massacre, the maintenance and custodial staff here did not make it a point to secure all of our gates and fences. As a result, I think often there was easy access to our property. Also, in the past, there were holes made in the fence that went unrepaired.”

Now, school officials are taking another look after Superintendent Victoria Zelenak said a resident complained about the playground being closed.

The playground has seen better days. The area has been littered with beer bottles, cigarettes butts and shopping carts, Zelenak said. The seesaw has been broken and the swings were damaged, she said.

Even so, Zelenak said, “It’s a nice playground, and it’s right on Lafayette Street.”

But there are several concerns in opening the playground to everyone, school officials said at a Board of Education meeting March 13 at the Cape May City Elementary School.

School board president Edward Connolly is concerned when an incident occurs, there’ll be a lawsuit.

During the week, teachers and aides supervise the playground. There is no supervision when the school is closed.

If the playground isn’t open to the public, the concern over liability would be reduced, Thomas said. The school’s insurance company, New Jersey Schools Insurance Group, has advised the school board not to open the playground to the public, he said.

“The problem with opening the playground in the evenings and weekends is that we have limited staff on weekday evenings and no staff on weekends,” Thomas said. “I will be contacting the city to see if they have an interest in ‘managing’ the playground during those hours, i.e. coordinate with public works, rec. dept. to provide some sort of oversight.”

Connolly said an update on the public use of the playground would be given at the April board meeting.

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