The new $7 million Ruth Park Play Space in Coombs is a hit with the kids but one Canberra mother won’t likely return until there are toilets and a dedicated car park.
Laura Maree Thomas, from Isabella Plains, is not alone in her concerns about the playground, which has become destination over the holidays for families across Canberra.
Her social media post about the family’s excursion to Ruth Park on Wednesday sparked a flurry of responses about the lack of facilities.
“Finally made it to the fancy new multi-million-dollar playground in Coombs and there are no toilets and no trees for kids to go behind,” she wrote. “We market it as one of the best things to do with kids in Canberra … There are a bunch of tourists here who are shocked by the idea of doing a bush poo.”
Ms Thomas told Region she was embarrassed for Canberra that she had to tell visitors to the national capital the multi-million-dollar playground had no toilets.
“We’d just done a walk around to see if we could find any and couldn’t so I told them they might have to go in the bush, which they were horrified by,” she said.
With four children aged seven and under, Ms Thomas is always on the lookout for great playground experiences and found Ruth Park listed online in Canberra’s top 10.
Of course she isn’t the only one, and when they arrived the playground was packed with children.
With only street parking available, people had parked on both sides of Edgeworth Parade and she was forced to find a park at the end of the street – a fair walk from the playground.
She said it was pretty dangerous, with cars parked on both sides of the road and children running across the road.
“And people had warned us if you park over there, you’re going to get a fine so that was a bit nerve-wracking,” Ms Thomas said.
While she had taken her children to the toilet before leaving home, of course they needed to go again as soon as they arrived.
After a searching the site and meeting the tourists, she bundled them up and returned to the car so they could find some toilets in the nearby semi-vacant Coombs shops, which did not have any soap.
Ms Thomas said the children did enjoy the park when they returned but the lack of facilities soured the experience.
“The kids love the park to play in but as a facility it leaves a lot to be desired for families,” she said.
“With the smaller playgrounds, as a parent, you don’t really expect it [to have toilets] but with the big multi-million-dollar ones, you do, when you plan on spending a couple of hours there,” she said.
Ms Thomas returned the next day for a pre-arranged outing with another family only to go through a similar experience.
So they probably won’t be back “because it’s just too hard getting them to get up to the toilet”.
The decision not to have toilets or a car park was a compromise that came out of consultation with nearby residents, who believed that the Holden Pond site was the wrong place to build a major playground but if it was to go there they did not want facilities that might attract bad behaviour or crime.
Asked what she would say to City Services Minister Chris Steel, Ms Thomas said: “That the needs of the greater public who are using the park should probably outweigh the needs of the residents that voted against it.
“And that it’s an embarrassment for Canberra to have these shocked tourists trying to pee behind the bush somewhere.”
The Molonglo Valley Community Forum is monitoring the situation and late last year wrote to Mr Steel requesting a safety audit covering path and traffic safety, speed limits, parking and signage but had not heard back.
Another destination playground in nearby Denman Prospect, Ridgeline, also began life without toilets but some have since been installed after complaints from families, including Ms Thomas who wrote to her local member.
“And you know, they build this new one and have the same problems,” she said.
Comment was sought from Mr Steel’s office.