Fence urged for tot lot

CA board authorizes funds to hire consultant to design safety plan for Lake Elkhorn, where a toddler drowned


Responding to the drowning death of a toddler last month, the Columbia Association will hire a consultant to determine whether a fence at the Lake Elkhorn tot lot is the best solution to prevent another tragedy.

After more than 90 minutes of discussion Monday night, which included testimony from teary-eyed parents, CA board members authorized up to $20,000 to hire the consultant to design a safety plan and up to $30,000 to build a fence if the consultant finds that is the best solution.

"I'm glad about the decision because if the consultant thinks a fence is good for the tot lot, it will be built," said Jen Terrasa, the mother of three. Terrasa is a leader of a group of parents who are demanding that the CA make the playground off Cradlerock Way in Owen Brown village safer.

Chick Rhodehamel, the CA's vice president for open-space management, said the consultant could get started within a month.

Should the consultant conclude a fence is not the best solution, the board of directors said the consultant would have to present another option for approval.

Alex Ferrera, a 23-month-old who lived in Laurel, drowned Sept. 2 at the Lake Elkhorn tot lot, a playground bordered by Cradlerock Way, lines of trees and a slope down to a wooden dock.

Police said the toddler was with a licensed in-home day care provider who called 911 to report a lost child.

An off-duty Secret Service agent found the child in the lake. The agent and a nurse performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

During Monday's meeting, parents urged CA officials to fence the lot as soon as possible.

"I thought that after that drowning that it would have been a no-brainer to put a fence around Lake Elkhorn and a barrier - even something decorative - at the docks to keep the children safer," Susan Defibaugh told the board members as she read a statement. "I thought we'd see someone out there installing one within the week."

Defibaugh, who lives near the lake, uses the tot lot and is a mother of two children, said, "Please don't make this a huge battle. The request for a fence and a dock barrier is very simple. We love Columbia and all it has to offer. We love the tot lots and the playgrounds, especially the Lake Elkhorn playground."

Rhodehamel submitted a five-page report to board members that offered five options for the playground: Change nothing, provide a fence, provide a landscaped barrier, remove the tot lot or relocate it.

Defibaugh does not want the playground moved.

"Please don't take that playground away," she said. "We love it, and we appreciate the renovations that were recently made."

Joshua Feldmark, chairman of the board, said he was pleased with the board's decision.

"I think it was good by the fact that we saw folks who wanted to do the right thing, wanting to do what is going to be the safest thing for the children and the parents," he said.

The board also asked the CA staff to develop a safety plan for the 168 other tot lots in Columbia.tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

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