For years, playtime for Santa Paula resident Susan Hughey's two children involved a 20-minute van ride to Ventura.
Concerned about the safety of play equipment in local parks, Hughey made the trip as often as three times a week so her children could enjoy playgrounds where the equipment seemed safer.
"It was really inconvenient driving to Ventura but I felt I had no choice," Hughey said.
But her trips to Ventura will soon end as the city of Santa Paula moves to replace playground equipment in its five parks.
By early May, the rusty, out-of-date equipment in city parks will be replaced with spiral climbers, ladders, slides and swings in bright yellow, red, green and blue, said Norman Wilkinson, the city's public works director.
"We want to make sure that the playgrounds are safe for the kids and that residents no longer feel the need to go to playgrounds outside Santa Paula," Wilkinson said.
It was by accident that the city decided to replace playground equipment, Wilkinson said. While studying how to make parks accessible to disabled residents, city workers said they noticed aging playground equipment in disrepair.
"We looked at the playground equipment and decided that it was too old and no longer safe to be used," Wilkinson said, noting that much of the equipment was installed more than 30 years ago. "So we began looking for money to make the parks accessible to handicapped residents and funds to replace the playground equipment."
One of the reasons the city neglected the parks, Wilkinson said, was because it didn't have money to maintain them.
In response to a city staff recommendation, the Santa Paula City Council voted in 1993 to use $325,000 in Community Development Block Grant money to buy new equipment. And council members recruited residents to help decide what kind of play equipment should be purchased.
"Myself and other parents visited every park in Ventura and we watched for safety (features) as the kids played," Hughey said. "Safety was really our biggest concern, and I feel that the city did listen to us."
In addition to the new equipment, which has already been installed at Teague and Mill parks, the city is building ramps and adding sidewalks so disabled residents can have access to the playgrounds.
The city is also putting a four-foot-high fence around the playgrounds to help keep youngsters from straying and to prevent older children from mixing with the younger ones.
For residents, the new play equipment is not only safe and attractive, but will keep them from going out of town.
"It was old and boring and we often went to Ventura parks because they have nice parks," said Pam Barnette, a mother of four who lives across from Teague Park. "But now we are staying here."