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IRVINE : Endangered Playground Is Defended

May 13, 1991|TOM McQUEENEY

Dale Aigner's 9-year-old son, Jason, has been a regular at the city's Adventure Playground ever since he turned 6, the playground's minimum age.

"If we don't have anything planned on Saturday, trust me, he'd be there all day long," said Aigner, 48, who owns a print shop in Fountain Valley. So when the Irvine resident learned recently that the playground--little more than a vacant lot--was a candidate for the city's budget chopping block, he began a campaign to persuade city officials to keep it open.

Aigner's call to arms via a flyer passed out to children at the playground drew about 50 parents who want to save the playground to a meeting last week.

A victim of the city's worsening financial shape, the playground is slated to close in early fall. The playground closing is one of several service reductions proposed in the city's 1991-93 budget, which is in the public-hearing stage before it is submitted to the City Council for approval.

Park supervisor David Suter described the two-acre Adventure Playground as "a dirt pit with a drain at the bottom." Located at University Community Park, it allows children to play in a vacant-lot atmosphere in a city known for its well-manicured parks.

Between 25 to 40 children use the playground at any one time to build forts, play in the mud or simply dig in the dirt.

"One parent described it to me as the last plot of free dirt left in Irvine," Suter said last week. The playground, he said, has become "an escapist answer to an urbanized society."

Supervised by four staff members, the playground is open Tuesday through Saturday and costs the city about $70,000 a year to operate.

Rather than simply close the unique play area, Aigner said, he wants to try to find a compromise that will keep Adventure Playground open while still saving the city money.

Aigner and other parents went before the city's Community Services Commission earlier this month and then met Thursday with city park officials.

"We were extremely surprised at the turnout," Aigner said. "There must have been about 60 people there."

They plan to appear again at Wednesday's Community Service Commission meeting with a list of suggested ways of saving the playground. Suggestions include holding fund-raisers, charging an entrance fee, having parents volunteer to staff the playground and perhaps reducing the playground's hours.

The Adventure Playground concept arose in 1943 in Copenhagen, Suter said. A Danish urban design architect noticed that all of the beautifully manicured public parks that he and others were designing did not seem to attract many children. Instead, the children could be found playing in mounds of rubble left from World War II air raids, Suter said.

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