SOS: Marshall apartment complex was a dangerous place to play

October 9, 2018

In one photo, Angelica Ugarte’s daughter swings on a bar at the top of a plastic yellow slide. The viewer can’t help but hope she didn’t go down because waiting for her at the bottom is a hole she could probably squeeze through — after her clothes and possibly her skin were cut up by its jagged edges.

Another photo features a ground-mounted rocking horse. Or maybe it’s not a horse; it’s hard to tell because the back of the thing’s skull has been removed, leaving another plastic, jagged-edged hole.

And then there’s the climbing chain that Ugarte said was long ago denuded of its protective coating and is no longer tethered to the ground, such that it “swings wildly in the breeze hitting children in the face and pinching tiny fingers.”

Ugarte sent the photos of her apartment complex’s playground to the Wisconsin State Journal’s Facebook page on Aug. 2, and after SOS took an interest in them, the complex’s manager was taking at least some action to make the playground at the School Street Apartments in Marshall a little less dangerous.

Ugarte said she only complained about the slide, rocking horse, climbing chain and nearly empty sandbox after repeated complaints to the complex’s manager, Wisconsin Management Co. Inc., and its owner, the Dane County Housing Authority, went unanswered.

“The residents here pay over $1,000 a month in rent and have been told (for) YEARS that the playground would be fixed or restored,” she wrote.

She provided an email from April 26, 2017, in which a WMC employee responds to her complaints about the playground and says he is looking at options for replacing the broken equipment.

And she told SOS that a letter from WMC was circulated to residents in the past saying the playground would be replaced, and “it just bothers me that they made these promises and nothing was ever fulfilled.”

WMC broker Alicia Reed said in an email that “a letter was sent several years ago discussing items that management wished to replace eventually as budget allowed, and the playground was referenced,” but “property improvements are prioritized, and since that time we have replaced one of the building roofs completely and corrected drainage issues.”

DCHA executive director Rob Dicke said his agency was told of the slide over the summer and the sandbox about a year ago. The former was replaced shortly after he become aware of the damage — but not with another slide, he said, because at $1,000, that would be too expensive. Reed said it was replaced with a “climbing structure.” Ugarte called it “stairs.”

Dicke said the sandbox was refilled at the time of that complaint.

He said he didn’t know about the rocking horse and climbing chain until SOS brought them to his attention, and denied that anyone at his agency received an email it appears Ugarte sent to him and several of his co-workers on Aug. 2 to complain about the playground.

Reed said Wednesday that “the chain and rider were removed today after you brought the concern to us. Aside from these two requests, we have not received any other repair requests from residents regarding the play structure.”

The rocking horse will not be replaced, Reed said, but the playground might get a climbing rope.

School Street Apartments has been owned by the Dane County Housing Authority since late 2015, according to Dicke, and managed by WMC since 2016. Once restricted to those with low incomes, the apartments now go for market rates, but the authority bought it to eventually convert it back into low-income housing, Dicke said.

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