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Howard County parks to install shade structures to limit sun exposure

Howard County Recreation and Parks plans to install shade structures at four older playgrounds in an effort to limit park users’ sun exposure.

Using $190,690 from the county Health Department, crews will install pavilion-like structures on playgrounds at Blandair Regional, High Ridge, Kiwanis Wallas and Western Regional parks, beginning in the next two weeks, said Raul Delerme, chief of Recreation and Parks’ capital projects, park planning and construction. The playgrounds may be temporarily closed during construction.

The department chose this time of year to complete the project to limit the impact on visitors, he said. Concrete footings will hold the structures, and the playgrounds’ rubber surface will be replaced or repaired, if needed.

Everything should be completed by the end of March.

“On our newer models of playgrounds, we’ve been starting to incorporate shade structures into the structures themselves,” Delerme said. “We’re going back and trying to add some shade to these areas to give kids the opportunity to get out of the sun for a period of time.”

Howard County Health Officer Maura Rossman, a practicing pediatrician in Baltimore, said the “wise investment” will help reduce health risks, such as heat exhaustion and skin cancers, particularly for children.

“We want to encourage children to have outside play activities,” Rossman said. “Most people know that playing on a playground is good for a child’s physical health, but it’s also good for a child’s developmental and cognitive growth and social emotional health. Creating an environmental structure that mitigates these risks is important.”

Melanoma is the most common skin cancer in children and more common in certain ethnic groups, she said. The health department continues to promote safe play in the spring and summer months, providing visors, sunscreen and water bottles to families.

Recreation and Parks is in the process of completing final survey work before construction begins. Delerme said they’re not sure where they’ll start, but the materials will blend in with each playground’s color scheme.

Delerme’s office inspects the county-owned playgrounds weekly, sometimes daily, throughout the year. Playgrounds are now built with aluminum and metal instead of wood, which he said was commonly used in the early 1990s.

“Over time, those deteriorated and we replaced those,” Delerme said. “Some of these playgrounds can last for 20 to 25 years. It depends on how often and how they’re used.”

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