CA pledges safety work on tot lot

Action comes months after 23-month-old wandered into Lake Elkhorn and drowned


A fence or buffer at the Lake Elkhorn tot lot could be completed in time for this summer, a Columbia Association official said.

Chick Rhodehamel, Columbia Association vice president for open-space management, declined to provide a more precise date for completion, but he said that association staff continues to investigate ways to safely enclose the playground, which is 160 feet from Lake Elkhorn.

Alex Ferrera, a 23-month-old from Laurel, drowned Sept. 2 last year after wandering from the tot lot into the lake. The playground, which is between the lake and Cradlerock Way, is nearly surrounded by trees. But there is a strip of open ground between the tot lot and the lake.

After the drowning, concerned parents pleaded with the association board of directors to place a fence or buffer at the playground to prevent another such accident.

In October, board members authorized staff members to hire a consultant to conduct a safety evaluation of the playground.

The report, from the National Program for Playground Safety, concluded: "There is no compelling need to place a fence around the play area."

But parents denounced the report at a December board meeting and asked that the Columbia Association board to approve a fence.

At the meeting, the board approved a fence or buffer and asked association staff members to produce a report on what could be placed at the site.

"We are attempting to see if there are any experts or guidelines that exist that specifically address the issue of fencing playground and parks so we have a reasonable basis for providing information to the CA board," said Karen Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the association.

In an interview this week, Rhodehamel said the directive of the board "was for us to look at the options for barriers and ways to look at a safer sight situation and - without standards for that - it is still an ongoing investigation."

Jennifer Terrasa, a Kings Contrivance parent who headed the effort to get a fence built around the tot lot, said she was disappointed that a fence or buffer had not been built.

"I wish it would move along," Terrasa said, as it's now spring and children are playing at the tot lot. "They have themselves in a situation where it's now a big problem."

Hawkins said the association is thinking about the safety as it continues to look for the right solution.

"CA is always concerned about the safety of the children and all the residents of Columbia," she said.

"This process to enhance safety is moving along, but needs to take whatever time necessary to reach a thoughtful and sound conclusion."

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