When a new playground was announced for Murphey Candler Park, Thomas Eskew and his family were excited. The new playground was part of improvements listed in Brookhaven’s park bond, which voters approved in 2018.

Eskew lived a few blocks away from the park, and visited often with his now 3 year old. In 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the playground became more of a fixture for the family, and they would sometimes even go multiple times a day, he said.

“We were all very, very excited for what was to come,” he said. “[The playground] was a little out of date, so we were excited for fresh equipment.”

But when the playground finally opened in March of this year, Eskew was disappointed. He said the structures his 3-year-old daughter used to play on were gone, but weren’t replaced with newer structures that he found appropriate for younger kids.

Instead, there was a new, castle-like structure that he described as “pretty intense.”

“Our 3 year old … she’s physically very capable, but she’s afraid to go onto the structure,” he said. “It’s marked 5-12, and for good reason.”

Photos of the new playground at Murphey Candler Park from the city of Brookhaven’s website. Structures include a castle (top left), a tree-climber (top right), swings (bottom left) and springers in the shape of different animals (bottom right).

Other Murphey Candler Park parents have expressed similar concerns, worried the new playground doesn’t have enough equipment suitable for younger children. Resident David Cohen has made a statement at two Brookhaven City Council meetings on behalf of the Murphey Candler Neighborhood Association, asking the city to consider purchasing and installing more equipment designated for children under the age of five.

“The MCNA is concerned that by installing new playground structures and swings for older children and removing playground structures appropriate for young children, many families who utilize the park are left with a loss rather than a gain,” Cohen said at an April 27 council meeting. “In addition, the lack of age-appropriate equipment increases the risk of accidental injuries by young children using the new playground.”

City spokesperson Burke Brennan said Brookhaven’s parks are designed to be safe and enjoyable for all ages.

“This particular play area has features for all age groups, including ones appropriate for ages 2-5,” he said in an email.

According to a contract the city approved with Kompan Inc. during a July 28, 2020 council meeting and information found on the playground equipment manufacturer’s website, only three items – springy structures in the shape of a dolphin, a bee, and a bug – are appropriate for children under the age of five. The other equipment purchased, including a castle structure and a netted climbing structure, has an age-range of 5-12.

According to meeting minutes provided by Brennan, Murphey Candler stakeholders stated they wanted “natural playgrounds to cater to multiple age groups” during an Oct. 8, 2015 meeting. At a Sept. 8, 2015 meeting, the Murphey Candler Park Conservancy named playground improvements as the number one priority for the park.

Eskew said the limited amount of equipment for younger children means he and his family don’t spend as much time as they used to at the playground.

“All in all, she’s going to entertain herself for about 10 minutes … and then we’re going to go home,” he said.

Murphey Candler Park resident Katy Adams, who has a 5 year old, 4 year old, and 1 year old, said even her oldest child is scared of some of the equipment geared toward older children, particularly a rope bridge that hangs between two pillars on the new castle structure.

“Our 5 ½ year old was scared to death to climb on that castle,” Adams said. “The gaps in the rope – I could fall through them. So she was very frightened about falling.”

Adams said she has now started going to other parks and playgrounds besides Murphey Candler.

“The people who are using that playground are mostly caregivers in the morning who have children who aren’t school age,” she said. “So many of our friends – including us – we’re going to Dunwoody, we’re going to Brook Run, we’re going to Georgetown, we’re going to Chastain Park.”

According to documents sent by Brennan, the city offered multiple general public input opportunities, including pop-up events, surveys, and City Council meetings where residents could share what they would like to see reflected in the park bond before and after it was approved. The park bond website also includes an email residents can message with their feedback.

When asked if the city held any playground specific public input sessions, officials pointed to a session in 2016 where the city invited children to offer input on what they would like to see at the playground. City spokesperson Ann Marie Quill said about 120 children offered input.

Eskew and Adams both said they have reached out to Mayor John Ernst and District 1 Councilmember Linley Jones about their concerns.

“I think the simple solution here is to use some of the funds that are remaining in the bond referendum contingency … and install some equipment to replace what was lost,” Eskew said. “They could install something that would accommodate a whole family, with ranges of kids.”

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.