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ImageOut with the old, in with the new.  That's what it seemed would happen when the Myers Park Playground Project (MP3) came along.  Over the years the old playground equipment had worn away, or new safety standards declared them unsafe.  But Park Superintendent Steve Colt started getting calls from people who had fond memories of the old equipment.

"I can personally remember playing on it when I was a kid," Colt says.  "The four way spring toy and some of the older spring toys have to be over 40 years old."

Local artist Robin Schuttenberg was also interested in the fate of the spring toys.  She made Colt an offer: if the Parks and Recreation Department would pay for the materials, she would paint the animal pieces.  On Wednesday Colt was raving about the results, citing the depth of detail and the whimsical make-over she has achieved.

"They're almost not playground pieces," he said.  "They're works of art."


Both, actually.  Schuttenberg says she is enjoying painting the animal pieces as she sees them in her mind's eye.  But she is also considering the children who will play on them.  Her husband Kurt, who spent six hours washing and priming the pieces for her, suggested leaving all the saddles the bare-metal silver color, because they were shiny and would receive the most wear.  But Schuttenberg wanted to differentiate them.

"I think kids like something different on each," she says.  "It's not enough to say, 'I want the elephant or the hippo or the snail.'  You have to say 'I want the red snail'."

Schuttenberg says she has never done a project like this, but she likes to shake things up as an artist by trying different things.

"It's different," she says.  "I also paint the backdrops for the school musicals.  As an artist if you don't try to do new things you get staid and it gets boring.  When I have a chance to try something new and different I think about it and am actually  into it.  I've never done anything like this.  It is fun.  As long as I can do it the way I want to and don't have someone standing over me I'm willing to go for it."

While the artistry is all Schuttenberg, she researched the chemistry before starting the project.  She talked to people in various paint shops to get advice on what kind of paint would stick to what she thinks is cast aluminum.  Nobody is sure what they are made of, so she needed paint that would work on other metals as well.  That led to priming the pieces with a Rustoleum primer designed for aluminum, and painting enamel on top of that.  Schuttenberg discovered enamel pens that she is using to paint fine details on the pieces.  They look like Sharpies, but actually write with enamel paint.

The new playground has attracted new traffic to Myers Park,
but when people get there they have two playgrounds to choose from.

Unfortunately vandals set back the work a bit Monday night.  Someone went through the park Monday night, removing the wet paint signs and yellow 'caution' tape, as well as other signs and tape at the big playground keeping people off the grass that hasn't grown in yet.  People have already damaged the paint jobs, not realizing the paint is still wet.  Tuesday there was clear evidence of people riding the pieces before they were ready, leaving palm and thumb prints in the paint.

"I don't know if it's vandalism," Colt says.  "It's the idiot factor.  We're trying to protect them and their clothing from getting on wet paint.  You put up the signs and caution tape and one of the nights we had some idiots come down and took the stuff away.  It doesn't look like they damaged any of the pieces, but they took away the tape."

Colt adds that all parks suffer some vandalism, and noted that this year it is harder to effectively patrol the park because the Town has gone from hiring retired or off-duty police as constables to using park monitors who really don't have the authority to confront people who are violating park rules or the law.  He says the best thing good Samaritans can do if they see something that shouldn't be happening in the park is to jot down a license plate number and a description of the perpetrator's car to give to the Sheriff.

Colt says that he received numerouscalls from people concerned about the beloved pieces.  Some said and wanted them for their own yards if they weren't going to remain in the park.  He got the most calls about the four-way spring toy, with four cast aluminum animals -- a turtle, a pelican, an elephant, and a hippopotamus.  But he says they never would have left the park.  If it had turned out they were too dangerous as playground features, he says they would have been repurposed as garden ornaments around the park.

The old pieces have added significantly to the features of the little playground.  The big spiral slide,  the four way spring toy and two or three individual spring toys were all moved and reset.  A couple of Highway Department employees did the work, carefully removing the pieces from their old location at the big playground, then setting big blocks of concrete under ground.  Each block has a plate embedded in it that the spring toys are bolted to.

"I have to tell you they did a great job taking them out, and even a better job putting them in," Colt says.  "NYMIR (New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal) safety inspectors just came in and had rave reviews about the new playground and the old one.  They were reinstalled in a really good way."

On Tuesday Schuttenberg painted over the damage, adding details over the smeared parts.  She expects to finish the animals by this weekend.  Colt says that her painting has brought a sense that the pieces are new equipment, while retaining the sense of the old.

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