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Playground purchase moves forward without Sonic Screen

New play equipment at Cari and Westwood parks is slated for purchase. The Hastings City Council approved the purchase agreement with Webber Recreation for the two structures at its meeting Tuesday evening.

The structure for Cari Park includes a security measure that the Parks and Recreation Commission hopes will deter vandalism. Residents around the park requested security there. For the past several weeks, one such measure has been a topic of discussion that reached the national level. The PRC had considered including a device called the Sonic Screen, a high-frequency noise emitter that would activate whenever someone was in the park after hours and drive out those using the park inappropriately.

The PRC discussed the issue at length at two meetings in June, after comments were received questioning the legality and ethics of the device. In the end, the commissioners decided they felt the device was "overkill," Parks and Recreation Director Barry Bernstein told the city council.

They're not leaving the new equipment unprotected, however. Extra lighting is being included with the structure. The lights will operate on a motion sensor, illuminating the park when a person is in the park after hours. Instead of using floodlights that could disturb the homes surrounding Cari Park, the plan includes accent lights powered by solar panels.

If the park experiences further vandalism, additional security measures, such as still or video cameras or the Sonic Screen, could be retrofitted at a later date, Bernstein said.

The cost of the Cari Park structure totals about $51,000; the Westwood Park structure totals about $39,000. The purchase of both structures was approved in the city's 2011 budget. Included in the cost is a substantial discount - about 20 percent of the project cost - which the city achieved by agreeing to a volunteer installation.

"Both neighborhoods are very intrigued by this concept," Bernstein said.

Instead of having Webber Recreation send its staff to install the play structures, the Parks and Recreation Department is coordinating volunteers from within both the Cari and Westwood park neighborhoods to assemble the structures under the direction of a Webber Recreation supervisor. Not only does that reduce the city's cost, but it also gives the neighborhood a stronger sense of ownership in the playgrounds, Bernstein said.

"We feel it will energize both neighborhoods," he said.

The playgrounds should be installed sometime in September or October.