Some of the playgrounds in Lackawanna had become so bad that parents refused to let their children play there.
Paint flaked off the equipment, offensive graffiti marred signs, swings had disappeared, and the slides had seen sunnier days.
But a $550,000 overhaul of equipment and grounds this summer has turned the city into a playground paradise.
Four large playgrounds were stocked with entirely new equipment – replacing some pieces that had been in place since the early 1970s. Seven other pocket parks also received upgrades.
City residents have taken notice.
“Overall they made some big changes,” said Katelyn Dziedzic, who has three kids, ages 2, 5 and 7. “They love being able to go and climb. They love going, and they get to go a little bit more now.”
She and her kids usually visit a small playground off of South Park Avenue near their home or, when visiting relatives, a larger playground at Cleveland and Electric avenues.
Dziedzic just hopes the city will take care of the playgrounds so they don’t end up poor condition.
“As of right now, things are looking very, very good,” she said.
At a playground on Lehigh Avenue, Amarilys Rodriguez, 15, said “you even see big kids playing there now.”
Not so much before the upgrades.
“It was messed up. It was like a danger zone,” said Amarilys, a freshman at Global Concepts Charter School. “Swings were broken. The slides were like broken in half and rusty.”
When Joan Gibbon offered to take her granddaughter, Sienna Green, 7, to any playground, Sienna chose the one at Cleveland and Electric avenues, where a new merry-go-round gets a lot of attention from kids.
“She likes this one. She likes to spin on that spin-around thing,” said Gibbon. “She calls it the blue playground. I’m glad to see other people bring their kids here. That’s a good sign. It’s a bad sign when there’s no other kids here.”
The equipment, designed and installed by Game Time, is painted mostly in hues of blue. The grounds have been filled with wood chips to protect against hard falls.
While some residents have grumbled about the city taking out a bond to pay for the improvements, officials said they were long overdue and warranted the loan.
“Borrowing the money wasn’t ideal. But for a long-term investment, I think it was money well spent,” said City Council President Henry R. Pirowski Jr. “If you don’t give kids a place to go that’s positive, they’ll get in trouble.”
Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski said the condition of the playgrounds was among the most cited problems mentioned when he was campaigning to become mayor in 2011.
“There wasn’t any investment in playgrounds in this city in decades,” he said.
Much of the former equipment was not in compliance with current safety standards, he added.
“Even when I was playing on them, they were out of compliance,” said Szymanski, who is 38.
The mayor said he expected the new playgrounds to last well beyond the term of the debt pay off, which is 10 years.
“We had to invest in it. Our kids are worth it,” he said.
Within its three square miles, Lackawanna now has almost an embarrassment of riches when it comes to playgrounds.
The city’s upgrades are in addition to recently built playgrounds at Our Lady of Victory School, Global Concepts Charter School and Truman Elementary School. And the Lackawanna Municipal Housing Authority also maintains a large playground.