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As Erie County removes lead-laden park equipment, some 'iconic features' will remain

As the clock ticks toward doomsday for 52 pieces of lead-laced playground equipment in the Erie County parks system, 10 pieces will be saved from the scrap heap, including Cinderella's pumpkin carriage at Akron Falls Park.

A tree house slide and cowboy and fire truck climbers will also be spared at Akron Falls. So will the farmer climber at Ellicott Creek Park.

They are among the items that will be refurbished and made safe as county parks crews continue their purge of playground equipment that has tested positive for lead paint, county parks officials said.

“They’re unique, iconic features in our parks,” said Troy P. Schinzel, the newly appointed Erie County parks commissioner. “For people who grew up near these parks, it really rings a bell. They’re very near and dear to those who grew up in Erie County.”

Schinzel, who was appointed last month by Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, is overseeing a lead remediation program of playground equipment across six county parks.

In all, 66 total items – mostly swingsets and slides but also picnic tables and shelter trim – are being cut out and scrapped.

A recent report from Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. revealed lead paint-tainted playground equipment in county parks. An analysis by the county revealed nearly one-quarter of the park’s 258 pieces of playground equipment was found to have various levels of lead paint.

After testing and identifying all of the parks equipment, county officials are now embarking on a two-phase process to remove or rehabilitate the contaminated equipment.

Playground equipment deemed worth saving for the sake of heritage and history – like the pumpkin carriage – will be repaired, restored, repainted and made safe to play on. Parks officials estimate such pieces are likely at least a half-century old.

“We choose to keep those,” Schinzel said. “You won’t find them anywhere else.”

“For us, we’re trying where it’s possible to protect our legacy and our heritage,” Schinzel said.

Schinzel said the pieces being saved will be repainted as closely as possible to their original color scheme.

Wondering about “the shoe” climber at Chestnut Ridge Park? It’s staying, too. And it’ll remain just the way it is. It passed the test for lead.

[RELATED: High lead levels found in old playground equipment in Erie County parks]

The work will be done through the fall, Schinzel said.

First, crews will remove all of the equipment that’s deemed unfit for public use. Then crews will restore the contaminated equipment the county views as worth protecting.

Erie County officials will spend time over the winter identifying where replacement playground equipment will be installed, Schinzel said.

County crews have already completed work at Sprague Brook Park near Springville and spent this week at Akron Falls Park.

The work has raised questions from the union representing the crew members.

AFSCME Local 1096, the Erie County blue-collar employees union representing those removing the park equipment, expressed concern about whether the workers have been adequately trained, are equipped to deal with the on-the-job lead exposures and if they face a “serious health risk.”

“I do not feel my members have received the proper training to do this work, and I am concerned that the work is starting without a real plan in place to protect their safety,” Richard Canazzi, president of AFSCME Local 1095, wrote Poloncarz this week.

Gary A. Wilson, the county’s Commissioner of Labor Relations, responded for the county with answers to 14 questions posed by the union about training, protective equipment, blood testing and lead levels on the equipment.

“In consultation with the Parks Department, Erie County Health Department and experts in the field of lead contamination, the potential risk for unsafe lead exposure for a project that does not involve encapsulation, such as this, is low,” Wilson responded in a letter to the union.

Besides Cinderella's pumpkin carriage, tree house slide, fire truck and cowboy climbers at Akron Falls, a carousel merry-go-round will also be saved at that park. In addition, a slide at Chestnut Ridge, a swingset and the farmer climber at Ellicott Creek, a teeter-totter at Elma Meadows and a glider frame at Sprague Brook park will remain, county officials said.

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