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Sturt Reserve playground is open again – but its days are numbered
A Murray Bridge playground was in a “disgusting” state when it reopened this week, nine months after being flooded. But the council says it may not be worth fixing up.
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The reopening of a Murray Bridge playground has prompted questions about whether it’s safe or adequate, or whether its time is up.
The playground at Sturt Reserve, on the city’s riverfront, had been closed since January 11 due to the River Murray floods.
It wound up staying shut for nine months as the Murray Bridge council struggled to get enough soft-fall material to repair it.
Its reopening was finally announced on Sunday.
“The playground has been spruced up,” the council said.
However, the parents and children who visited on Monday found it dirty, rusting in places and covered with graffiti.
Dozens took to a community Facebook group to complain, including Kelly Tucker.
“It was disgusting … there was mud this thick in here,” she told Murray Bridge News.
“Don’t open something up only to disappoint the hundreds of kids who have been asking when the playground is going to be open.
“Do you want to make this community sound like a bad place to be?”
Another mum, Jess Smith, said the same thing.
“It’s nearly a year and (the council) have done literally nothing with it,” she said.
“It might as well still be closed.
“The level of rust just doesn’t strike me as something safe to play on.”
After hearing all the fuss on Monday night, contractor Brenton Lawrence actually showed up on Tuesday morning to give the playground a pressure clean off his own back.
He arrived to find that council workers had beat him to it.
By Wednesday, council CEO Heather Barclay had apologised for allowing the playground to reopen in such a dismal state.
“In our eagerness to welcome the community back to the Sturt Reserve playground, we inadvertently overlooked the necessity for a thorough cleaning and preparation process,” she said in a statement.
“We are pleased to announce that the playground has now been thoroughly cleaned and tested to meet the highest safety standards, ensuring it is once again ready for the community to enjoy.
“We value the feedback provided by our community.”
But will the council do anything more to fix up the playground?
After all, it has big plans for the precinct over the next couple of years.
Play precinct will be next part of Sturt Reserve to be redeveloped
The trouble with spending any more money on the playground is that the council hopes to replace it with a new nature play space – hopefully by the end of 2025.
Councillors voted last week to commission a detailed design for the “play” precinct that will form the next major stage of work on the city’s riverfront.
Two previous stages of a long-term master plan for Sturt Reserve have been completed since 2017, at a total cost of $8.9 million: a history and tourism precinct, incorporating Murray Bridge’s war memorial and a wharf shelter; and a recreation precinct, including another shelter and the new rowing centre.
Another $6 million will be spent on a refurbishment of the city’s wharf between now and the end of 2024.
The play precinct, the third of four precincts envisioned in the master plan, will feature:
a nature play space with adventure play equipment, fountains and sandpits
new public toilets
a showcase of native plants and animals, and Ngarrindjeri culture
a new river jetty or landing
A river swimming pool is still in the council’s long-term plans, too, but locals will have to wait a little longer for that because of escalating costs.
The other elements are already expected to cost a combined $15 million – that’s 40 per cent more than the council had estimated just three years ago.
The council will aim to secure $13.5 million worth of funding through the federal Growing Regions Program.
It will also include a $1 million contingency in the project’s budget so that any further cost increase won’t sink it completely, as was recently the case with a planned basketball stadium at Murray Bridge Showground.
Ms Barclay envisioned the new play space becoming a “major attractor” for Murray Bridge, much like the water park at the city’s swimming centre.
What does this all mean for the playground we’ve got?
So if all this is planned in the near future, what more will the council do to make the current Sturt Reserve playground safer and more appealing?
Only what was necessary to keep users safe, Ms Barclay suggested.
“It’s a playground that’s very close to the end of its useful life,” she told Murray Bridge News.
“(If) a piece of equipment is considered not safe and fit for purpose, that section of playground will be removed.
“Nothing further is planned at this point in time unless a component needs replacing.
“We wouldn’t want to be in a position where council is spending significant funds on that play space when … those funds could potentially be applied to a grander-scale play space.”
Community members would get an opportunity to provide input into the design process at an appropriate time, she promised, just as they were recently asked about playground upgrades on Magpie Drive and Torrens Road.
For now, though, we’ll have to play the waiting game.