Three children climb on wooden play logs at Emma Prusch Farm Park
Max, Emily and Chris (left to right) play on the newly renovated Emma Prusch Farm Park playground. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

An 18-foot-tall chicken named Chiquita overlooks children racing across the playground, while Alexandra Villalobos sits on a picnic blanket with her 12-year-old son Max at Emma Prusch Farm Park in East San Jose. Her two younger children are using the newly renovated playground, and Villalobos has warned them to avoid the sizzling-hot metal slides and rough wooden climbing logs.

Pop-up canopies with laminated signs warn families of scalding slides in the hot sun. But the temporary canopies don’t fully shade the three metal slides, leaving Villalobos disappointed. She said after a long wait for a new playground, the park’s renovations fall short. Park advocates said this highlights inequities in East San Jose, leaving city officials working on the playground’s problems more than a month after it opened in May.

“The overall look of it is really beautiful. But I don’t think it’s actually functional and practical,” Villalobos told San José Spotlight. “It’s supposed to be all-inclusive, right? It’s designed that way. But in the little time that we have been coming, it’s a little bit more dangerous than other parks we’ve been to, so I don’t think it was carefully, really thought out.”

Daisy Barocio, District 5 parks commissioner who represents the area, said the playground’s scorching slides are a disappointment because this is the first East San Jose park designed to be accessible to children of all abilities.

Barocio takes her children there regularly and said it’s an east side jewel for families who don’t have access to similar resources outside of school.

“(Safety) shouldn’t be something parents are worried about,” she told San José Spotlight. “They take kids to a park to enjoy, to spend community and family time, not to worry if their kid is going to get burned.”

A red pop-up canopy attempting to shade a metal slide at the newly renovated Emma Prusch Farm Park
City officials are working to address scorching metal slides in hot weather at the newly renovated playground at Emma Prusch Farm Park in East San Jose. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

Ed Bautista, spokesperson for San Jose’s parks department, said the city is experimenting with short-term fixes to address the hot slides while it analyzes long-term solutions over the summer months. He said workers check the slides daily and the design purposefully faced the slides north to combat the heat. He said the department hasn’t received complaints about the logs.

Bautista doesn’t believe the park’s renovation reflects an inequity on the city’s east side because it is the largest all-inclusive playground in San Jose with ample amenities scattered through the rest of the park. He welcomes community feedback.

“Our city staff went all out to build an iconic playground. We just think it is one of the best,” he told San José Spotlight. “The selection of elements into it was outstanding, it’s very cool. The play structures, the chicken on the hill, it’s really blended into a very nice overall, large playground area.”

The roughly $4.4 million playground expanded the play area to roughly 0.75 acres on Emma Prusch Farm Park’s nearly 43.5 acres. It was envisioned more than six years ago and fills a previously empty field next to the original playground, including a gravel play area and farm-inspired play equipment. It faced delays largely due to the construction process, Bautista said. It was designed by MIG, Inc. and received funding from Santa Clara County’s All-Inclusive Playground Grant Program.

Melissa Erikson, the MIG principal who headed the project, said MIG and the city are looking into more shading options for the playground, and said as young trees age, the tree canopy will help cool the slides. She said MIG did consider heat, but had to balance the long-term sustainability with the seasonality.

The city and MIG also conducted community outreach primarily in English and Spanish during the design phase.

“We know that no one wants to get injured. The whole point is to have folks be able to engage in the components and have a range of opportunities to engage,” Erikson told San José Spotlight. “We want people to be able to safely enjoy that. That said, most play structures have some metal, whether it’s hand bars, gripping, but certainly at the bottom of the slide, that’s a concern.”

A pop-up canopy shades a small metal slide with children going down it. A sign warns families of the hot slide temperature.
Children play on a slide at Emma Prusch Farm Park under a pop-up canopy to help with the heat. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

East San Jose is no stranger to the disparities its residents experience. This year, the city’s park maintenance backlog left many east side parks in disrepair. The renovations also come after the city’s parks lost millions in funding following a reduction in development taxes and fees for at least 14 high-rise housing projects.

District 5 Councilmember Peter Ortiz said he was upset to learn about the hot slides, but he had no control over the design because it was in its final stages when he came into office. He said he’s working with the parks department to address residents’ concerns in the short-term, while also looking toward future long-term solutions such as shade sails and heat-preventative coatings.

“Although this playground delivers on a promise to east side families, the challenges we faced and continue to face highlight a pattern of inequity towards east side amenities,” he told San José Spotlight. “Constant construction delays, unclear communication and ultimately flawed equipment signals to our families that they are undeserving of high-quality amenities.”

For now, the slides will remain hot and the logs will continue to be rough under Chiquita’s gaze. Villalobos said she and her three children will continue visiting Emma Prusch Farm Park, but will also avoid unsafe equipment.

“Maybe if the community got together and said, ‘Hey, we love the park but it’s still not really safe. The slides are not safe if they’re that hot,’” she said. “‘What are we gonna do to improve the playground?’ We’re very grateful that it’s here and it’s new, but it definitely could use some improvements.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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