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Sandpit Tap Correspondence

Aug.31, 2020

Subject: Heads up about the Dufferin Grove sandpit waterplay area
To: Dufferin Grove Park <>
Cc: Lennox Morgan <>, Peter (Park) White <>, Councillor Bailao <>, Donna Densmore <>

Dear parents of kids who use the sand pit waterplay area,

Last week four city staff plus the area supervisor came with a backhoe and dug up the water tap that the kids use for waterplay in the sandpit. They replaced it with a tap that only runs 15 seconds at a time. No fun, no more little river engineers. The sandpit emptied out fast.

There's a workaround. The water valve has an additional connector for a garden hose. So over the weekend I brought down and connected the community-garden hose, and the sandpit filled up again with kids. The waterplay area almost always gets more use than the wading pool.

Now I heard from the wading pool staff that the same park neighbour who has opposed the sandpit waterplay for many years says he will once again contact the park supervisor and ask for the hose to be removed.

There are certainly some others who feel that the sandpit water play is bad for the environment: a waste of water.

Lee Valley water meter

Here's some surprising information re water use: In 2016, we tried to get the city's water meter readings for both wading pool and sandpit. But the city's Outdoor Revenue Services said they couldn't reveal that. So we bought a hose water meter from Lee Valley (picture below)and measured sandpit water tap output over a 10-hour period. The result: about 4160 liters a day.

Then students at Rosedale Heights High School got help from their physics/math teacher to calculate how much water the Dufferin Grove wading pool uses in one average day. Result: about 43,590 liters a day. More details are here. This information was, of course, shared with city staff.

So the wading pool uses about 10 times the amount of water as the sandpit waterplay does, and adds a lot of extra chlorine to boot. Should the wading pool be shut down? Of course not.

I will post a display about this issue next to the sandpit. The sad thing is, despite the fact that city staff and neighbours collaborated on the creation of the sandpit 27 years ago, and it was opened with fanfare by the then-mayor of Toronto (Mayor June Rowlands), these kinds of decisions are now made without consultation with the many parents and children who love the sandpit waterplay.

I have copied people who have the power to save the waterplay. Feel free to encourage them to talk to parents and kids before they shut it down again. Maybe staff could use the park's repair money to make an inside-the-park drain (as they promised 15 years ago) -- to disperse more water to the grass and trees instead of the laneway storm sewer. Wouldn't that be cool?


Amy Withers: Here is a link where the City of toronto encourages people in their homes / businesses to save water by spotting leaks...

Interesting to consider the amounts...the sand pit uses the amount of water per day wasted by a hole the size of pen dot.

here is a cbc article but I am sure there are figures of toronto's water loss through municipal pipes... It is huge...
Let the kids play! right? they can't go to drop in centers or canada's wonderland or grandma's house etc etc..."

Yakos Spiliotopoulos: "My kids absolutely LOVE this sandpit, and the water/river that goes with it. Please, don’t let one resident ruin everyone’s good time."

a screwdiver prop to keep the water running

Debra Conlon: "That set-up in the sand pit is such a great opportunity for kids to learn and have endless entertainment."

Caity Mulqueen: "I have a son who is almost 3 and the sand pit is a big attraction! I hope that it will remain in operation as intended. It is such a unique feature and I believe it engages kids imagination and creativity in a way that is really important to the development of healthy happy people."

Andrea Holtslander: "After a long summer of quarantine, my kids aged 6 and 10 were thrilled to be able to play in the sand pit again with the water turned on. The sand pit appeals to children of all ages. My son's ten and even twelve year old friends were completely engrossed all day building canals, lakes, and dams. The six-year-old was doing the same, and toddlers happily played in their midst. The point of the sand pit is not to merely have damp sand but to have a dynamic landscape to create. Its value as a play resource is why camps have included it in their programming for years.

My kids were incredibly disappointed when the new tap was installed that only gave 15 seconds of flow, and they abandoned the sand pit until the hose workaround got things going again. It would be great if the city could install a drain to disperse water from the sand pit around the park.

The sand pit with a constant flow of water is unique and affords children of all ages creative, active play, even tween-aged children who might be growing out of the wading pool and and playground. It should be kept in its original form, especially during the pandemic when children's programming has diminished."

Sept.1, 2020

Tim Clement: "My wife and I live on Sylvan Avenue.  My back gate opens onto "Sylvan" laneway at the south end of the park.  My neighbours and I have been experiencing problems resulting from the constant flow of the water tap for several years.  It's not just about wasting water. That's the least of our concerns.

There is another side to this story. For full disclosure, I would like to share with you a letter I wrote to Ana Bailoã’s office on August 10th of this year.

Dear Ana,                                          

I would like to bring to your attention a problem that we and our neighbours have been tolerating for many years. I believe several of my neighbours and others living in the area have contacted your office in previous years about this matter.

You may or not be aware of the water tap in the Dufferin Grove Park children’s playground. It had been shut off this season due to COVID - until last weekend.

We live in one of the houses at the south end of the park, by the “Sylvan” laneway.

The daily non-stop running of that water tap has been creating a number of problems for many years.

The running water carries sand, silt and mud and debris down into the laneway resulting in the clogging of the drain. The clogged and sometimes full drain leads to the laneway and our backyards flooding. It’s especially bad when it rains. The backyard has flooded on many occasions in recent years, resulting in water seeping into the basement. This of course leads to mold and mildew problems along with crumbling foundations and basement walls in these older houses.

The second problem is that the kids are naturally attracted to watching or directing the water to go down the drain in the laneway, which they like to plug up with rocks, sticks and mud just because that's just what kids do. This creates an ongoing danger for the kids who play in the laneway as there is considerable traffic from not only residents but also service vehicles and drivers who don't realize it's a dead end. 

My next door neighbour nearly ran over a young lad last year as he was backing out of his parking space. The boy was small and huddled over the drain and could not be seen in my neighbour's rear view mirror as he backed out of his driveway.  It was pretty scary.  I don’t blame the kids. They’re naturally adventurous and it’s just what they’ll do. As long as there is water running down the drain, the kids will play there.

Third:  Mosquitoes!  The tap creates pools of stagnant, still-standing mucky water for mosquitoes to breed every night, capable of spreading more viruses with each coming year. This year has been fantastic with the tap shut off until now. There were virtually no mosquitoes since the tap has been off.  So nice! In previous years we have not been able to enjoy our backyards. Not just us, but our neighbours as well. There were thousands of mosquitoes!  In fact, after we got back from a camping trip in Algonquin Park last year, we noticed that the bugs were worse here than in Algonquin.

Water: I measured that the water pours out of that tap at between 12-15 litres per minute. The waste is obvious.  And the tap will be left on even when there are only 1 or 2 or even NO kids in the playground.  It has been occasionally left on overnight as well.

The wading pool is now open and the kids will have plenty of water.  They have those giant sprinklers installed now too!  I don't see the logic in keeping that tap running full tilt all the time. If the justification is that the wading pool already wastes tons of water, why waste even more?

Now that my wife and I, and nearby neighbours have experienced the betterment of having the tap shut off, we don't want to go all the way back.  But it is NOW back on full blast. And I can't imagine that especially during this pandemic, it would be recommended to have these kids playing down in the muck and in such close proximity.

A number of neighbours - not even from this immediate area - have told me that while the sand and water is fine and clean enough up by the north end, by the time it reaches the south end by the laneway, the water stinks and likely full of bacteria which they will not allow their kids to play in.

I had considered contacting you with regards to this problem in past years, however with nothing to compare it to, I did not know the degree to which the standing water was contributing to the mosquito population. It wasn’t until this year with the tap off from May till last week that we had virtually NO mosquitoes compared to thousands in other years as I mentioned.

My neighbour, Michael Edwards said he had contacted your office in previous years to have someone from the city come out to flush the sewer after it had flooded over several times. He said It was not enough and that he had recontacted you to do it again. Another unnecessary expense for the city I would think.

Over the years, the park staff and Parks & Rec have tried to deal with this problem in a number of ways. They have built French basins twice, and continue to bring more truckloads of sand, which of course all just washes away down the sewer drain.

I can't tell you what a relief and blessing it has been with the tap was off this spring and summer!  All the related problems it created were gone!  But, as I mentioned, it is now back on!

Okay, so that was sent a few weeks ago.  Ana’s office has been in touch with me about contacting the Park’s technical team and trying to reach a compromise.  I also copied Lennox Morgan who I was told is the park’s manager responsible for the children’s playground and water tap but he has no responded.

I thought we had achieved a compromise about 2 weeks ago when the tap was turned up only half way.  For a few days it worked perfectly!  The kids still had plenty of water to play in, but it absorbed into the soil about half way down before it could reach the laneway and the sewer.  Perfect. Until I was told that some “park staff” accidentally put it back on full “by accident”. It stayed that way for another week or two.

Then, a few days ago, as Jutta mentioned, the Parks dept. came and put on a new hand operated timed tap.  Worked for me, but I am told that it is not providing enough water for the kid’s full enjoyment. I get that.

So over the weekend “someone” decided to attach a garden hose from the locked water source.  It could not be turned off and was on full tilt all day and into the night long after the kids had gone home.  This just compounded the problem. Not only did we have the water coming from the tap, but not the hose as well. Currently the laneway is a mess.

In my opinion, the best solution so far has been to half the tap on, but not full blast.  As I mentioned, this worked for a few days.  It would be a simple matter for a plumber to attach a stopper so the locked up source tap could only be put on up to 50%.

Hey, I’m not a meanie and am all for the kids having fun out there. I have kids too, but we need to find a compromise that visitors to the park and the neighbours living on the park can all live with. That’s what being part of a community is all about. We have a lot of great minds in the Dufferin Grove Community. I am absolutely open to other solutions. Having the hose or tap on full all day is NOT among them."

Erin George: "Hi Councillor Bailao and PFR staff,
My 9 year old daughter asked me to contact "the city".

She was very disappointed yesterday when she tried to use the newly installed tap at the Dufferin Grove sand play area (known around here as the Adventure Playground) and she discovered that it only works for 15 seconds and that the button falls off.

My two children (6 & 9) have long outgrown the wading pool, but they will still happily play for hours in the adventure playground. For urban kids, this space is a rare opportunity for open-ended outdoor play. I encourage you to read the book "Last Child in the Woods" to understand why this is so critical for our children, especially now during the pandemic.

We have already lost so much in our park due to COVID-19: pizza making, farmers' market, cob cafe, Friday night suppers, even the playground for 5 months. Without these animations, the park is just not the same and my children have felt it keenly. The food programs are tasty, to be sure, but what they really do is feed our hearts by creating community and they help keep the park safe by having park staff present (unlike the wading pool attendants who spend much of their time sitting and futzing on their cellphones or playing cards).

Please don't take away yet more park fun (the water tap). I urge you to replace the tap with what was there before and add a sign that treats the users like intelligent, caring human beings. This is what my daughter suggests:
"Please save some water for the fish!
Turn off the tap when you're done playing."

I know in City building timelines that 2-3 years of COVID-19 and renovations of north-west corner will pass in the blink of an eye, but for our children, the clock is ticking. In 2-3 years my daughter will be on the cusp of her teenage years. Blink and her childhood will be over.

backpack cinch to keep the water running
Sept.2, 2020

Jutta Mason: Tim Clement's clarifying email, about the conversations between him, the parks supervisor and the city councillor, shows that more people need to be invited into the conversation (list below) about the children's sandpit/waterplay/adventure playground at Dufferin Grove.

When the sandpit was first put in by the city, in 1993, there was a public site meeting at the park, led by the city's director of recreation, Mario Zanetti (who stood on a picnic table so that everyone could see him). The issue at that time was that some of the people living beside the park laneway opposed any additional play space because it would attract more kids and add to the playground noise that sometimes bothered them.

Many parents and also some kids spoke in favour of trying the sandpit. It was an idea passed along by the child development workers and the artists who ran the Spiral Garden playground at the Hugh Macmillan Kids' Rehab hospital (now called Holland Bloorview). The parents at the Dufferin Grove meeting said they wanted a playground that would engage kids beyond the toddler stage. The recreation director asked the neighbours to give the idea a chance.

That was 27 years ago. With the help and ingenuity of some artists and parents and part-time rec staff, the sandpit soon turned into a popular adventure playground. Some of the children who were the "founders" are now parents themselves, bringing their own kids to play.

Over the past almost three decades, there have been various issues that have been addressed (or not). Now that the waterplay has been blocked it seems time to invite more people into the conversation. Who to include:

1. parents and kids who use the playground
2. Toronto Community Housing maintenance staff, who own the houses where Tim and some of his neighbours live, and who can look at their records regarding basement mold and crumbling foundations
3. the other immediate park neighbours
4. Parks and Rec Technical Services plumbing staff, who sent a robot camera along the laneway storm sewer 15 years ago, and gave it the all-clear then (it's time to check again)
5. Experts who can talk about bacteria, standing water, public health, and child development (many such people also live in the neighborhood and use the park)
6. Former staff who worked at the park before the silos were established, and who actually looked after the adventure playground (including preventing standing water) in addition to many other tasks
7. Current management staff who decide what happens at the park -- including the Aquatics manager who can defend why wading pool staff are directed to sit by the pool only, with the second staff doing nothing else even if the pool is empty and the sandpit is busy
8. Experts in water drainage, who can improve on previous half-hearted attempts to divert water back into the park (some of these experts are also parents who use the playground).

Hopefully the councillor's office can help enlarge the conversation. Children have had a lot of hard times in the past half year and it's good to protect what gives them joy.

P.s. -- more of the playground story: here and here (for example, a laneway neighbour's account, p.58)

Peter White (manager of Parks, Toronto and East York region): "I looked at the sand pit with my Technical Services staff yesterday and we are proposing the installation of proper drainage to keep water and soil out of the laneway. I would be happy to meet with you on site to discuss our proposal."

Jutta Mason: "Hi Peter, I stopped by the sandpit today and saw two parks staff shovelling sand into the first few feet of the channel near the tap. Then they had a cigarette break and drove off (two separate vehicles).

Some mothers who were there told me that this has happened on the other days too. But once the water is flowing, they said, it takes a very short time for that part of the channel to re-establish itself -- so it's kind of pointless. (Apparently parents have been propping the tap open with sticks, screwdrivers, backpack straps, etc. to keep the water running.) Maybe tomorrow those staff could use the time instead to move the three piper benches that are at the rink house (in the gap between the building and the rink) down to the playground area. That's where they used to be put in the summertime, so parents could sit there. Lennox said last week that might be possible but it didn't happen."

Sept.3, 2020

Kathy Paterson: "Despite the fact that we haven't used the sandpit for years, I can say that when our now teenagers were young, it was a total life saver. That whole area- the wading pool, sandpit, and straw-bale cafe SAVES moms and dads from madness. Just to exhale, not have to worry about food, ( I still dream of those egg sandwiches) have a coffee, sit in the shade... and know that you will get through the long ( but so soon gone ) days when your little people are non-stop demanding of your attention. I'd say they should divert funds from the mental health budget to keep it all going. Seriously. Parents need support so badly- they need places to go that entertain their little ones in wholesome ways..."

Sept.4, 2020

Peter White (manager of Parks, Toronto and East York region): "...staff were on site today as the faucet had been damaged. We have reinstalled the hose bib style fixture for constant flow. We have also installed a timer on the water line to ensure that the water is not left on overnight as has happened in the past. It will operate from 7:30am to 7:30 pm."

Tim Clement: "Hi Jutta, I'm sure you're aware that the push on tap has now been replaced with valve tap like we had before. Full on.

I see your point that the push-on timed tap may have been frustrating to the kids, unable to get enough water. So now we have a second chance to reach a compromise.

A simple solution would be to get a plumber to put a stopper on the source tap in the locked box on the ground so that the public tap could be only turned up half way. That way the kids still get lots of water, but not enough that it flows all the way down to the laneway drain causing the problems I have addressed. The water is absorbed into the ground about 3/4 of the way down the playground. Everybody's happy, right. (Isn't that what we had for a few days in August. It was perfect, but someone messed with it and removed the stopper apparently).

Would you agree to this? It would be a compromise where we would literally be meeting halfway.

If you agree, can you arrange for this to be put in place? Or should I follow up on my own? I'm not sure why I am asking you exactly. Are you part of the park staff? I honestly don't know. Crickets from Lennox Morgan who I was told was in charge here.

At any rate, for the time being and now that the tap is back on full, can someone please come down and turn it off before it gets pitch black and the kids have all gone home? How about at 6 when the wading pool closes and park staff leaves?"

Jutta Mason: "In answer to your question, Tim, I have never been on the staff of the Parks department but I was one of the group of four women who worked with the city to get the sandpit put in, in 1993. That's why I'm addressing this waterplay issue, and why I've tried to keep shovels and wood supplied, and the water going, over the years, so the kids can play.

I grew up in Germany soon after the second world war, and there were no playgrounds, just lots of sand and rubble from bombed buildings. That's how "adventure playgrounds" got started. The adults were full of worries, but the kids slipped away and started to build things with whatever was available. That's like what the kids who play in Dufferin Grove have been doing, over the years.

Hiding the sandpit shovels or getting the water set to a trickle is not helpful. Better to recognize after 27 years that this form of play has been embraced by families. And better to involve those families in making it work well. That means enlarging the conversation, not springing a bad surprise on people -- as happened here.

Here's hoping that the time and energy going into this now will solve some problems. Incidentally (this might interest you as a taxpayer) -- in case the city's covid spending means there will be less loose money to spend on redesigning parks buildings and playgrounds -- even cities that are almost broke can put in sandpits for children. The bill was $4000, and maintenance is cheaper than either wading pools or splash pads. Plus sandpits can inspire little engineers."

Peter White, Toronto Parks manager: "When my staff repaired the tap today we also installed a timer. The water should go on at 7:30 am and off at 7:30 pm.

We are also working on a plan to install drainage to intercept the water before it reaches the lane way."

Sept.6, 2020

Tim Clement: "I’m not asking for the water to be put on trickle. And I’ve never hidden a shovel.

All I’m asking is for a compromise. Put the water on at normal pressure. Does it need to be blasting out like it is now? It was a real mess down at this end yesterday.

This simple solution would not need any studies or cost any money. Just put a stopper or control on the source top so it doesn’t have to be full blast all the time.

Or don’t we believe in compromise or cooperation? We live together in a society and this great community here.

Jutta Mason: "I was just down there and I agree the water tap is on too strong. Until last week, I could have unlocked the source tap and turned the main switch down to more than a trickle and less than Niagara Falls. But the city changed the locks, so I no longer have a key and can't turn it down.

Over the 20 years we've had a tap there, other mothers used to have a key so they could adjust the water pressure or turn it on (or off at night) if staff forgot. Adults can use their judgment (and kids often helped figure out how strong the pressure should be -- their judgment was usually good too).

But those times seem to be over, generally."

Tim Clement: "Thank you Jutta. Let’s hope the others that are copied on this email thread are listening.

Sept.7, 2020

Jutta Mason: "Hi Tim, today I found out that the original lock has been put back on the source box, and so a former park staff and I were able to open it up and reduce the flow of the water in the box. I saw you leave your house with your dog just before we found we could open the box, when the water was still at full volume. Please let me know if you feel the flow is better now.

Beyond that, if people can put their heads together and figure out how to get the water to stay within the park, hopefully helping to water the trees and the grass instead of being carried away in the storm sewer, your persistence will have done a service that was long overdue. I'm going to be seeing a long-time water conservation activist from the neighbourhood later today. Her special focus is water conservation education through children's science exhibits in children's museums. If her expertise can help with the sandpit "water harvesting," I will be glad to spread the word -- that you nudged this along. Fingers crossed."

Sept.10, 2020

Site meeting with Peter White, Lennox Morgan, two tech services staff, one staff from the city councillor's office, and Jutta Mason. Staff outlined their intention of digging a fairly deep French drain near the south end of the sandpit, and linking it to a section of weeping tile that would soak up the "river" before it gets to the laneway storm drain. They also want to block the bottom end of the sandpit with some large logs. The green water service box at the north end will be removed and replaced with a control panel inside the wading pool pit. Only the city plumbers will have the capacity (through remote control) to set the timer and the water volume. This work will be done by city staff so the cost will be only for materials, most of which they already have in stock anyway. Projected time is the beginning of October, so as not to cut short the kids' playing time this month. Staff think it will take about four days.

Sept.14 2020, 4.17 pm

Tim Clement: "Grabbed this photo yesterday. Not my definition of what half looks like.
I was really fine for a few days there last week.

Shouldn't the simple rule of thumb be that if the water is reaching the laneway and running into the drain, it's on too hard?
No need for that, is there?

Jutta Mason: Dear Peter and Tim
The tap is currently set to half, i.e. at a 45 degree angle of the handle. That's normal. Yesterday in mid-afternoon there were more than 40 kids and parents in and around the sandpit. The water was set the same as today but the stream didn't reach down as far as the lane because so many kids were diverting it for their various games. But today when I was there at 6 pm there were only 5 kids plus parents and they were playing inside the park beside the laneway. Since there was nobody playing closer to the tap, no water was being diverted higher up and so it was flowing down to the trench (within the park) that's been dug there, presumably by Parks staff.

new trench by the laneway

Tim, since the plan is to add the tile bed and the deeper French drain in 2-3 weeks, it would be good for you to stop the almost daily complaints now. On August 10 you wrote to the councillor: "I can't tell you what a relief and blessing it has been with the tap was off this spring and summer! All the related problems it created were gone! But, as I mentioned, it is now back on!" You've made your displeasure about the sandpit known for many years, but the house you live in is right beside a much-loved park playground that's been there for 27 years. Kids get to play.

If there was a city staff to keep an eye on the playground -- as there was for many years -- the water volume could be set according to how many kids are there. But the city has opted not to have any playground staff there this year. Remarkable.

If a plumber comes and lowers the water volume back to the trickle, there will be a lot of frustration again. Things are hard enough for kids during this time of so many things being forbidden, let's not make it worse.

Sept.16, 2020, city maintenance plan email sent via the city councillor

We will be placing 2 or 3 half buried logs approximately 15 feet from the alley to stop the water flow and raise the grade between the logs and the alley.

In front of the logs we will be trenching and installing a 100mm weeping tile wrapped with ¾ inch clearstone and filter fabric. This weeping tile will drain the overflow water to a French drain we will be excavating

approximately 60-80 feet away from the logs to the west. Our 'weeping pit' will be further away from the alley than the drawing shows. This pit will be approximately 6-8 feet wide, 10-15 feet long and 5 feet deep.

It will be filled with ¾ clear gravel with filter cloth on top, leaving 6-8 inches for soil. Once complete we will regrade the area above it with top soil and seed. We will be including a small monitoring well flush with grade to monitor the water levels inside the drain.

Our goal is to make sure once the water hits the logs it will have adequate drainage and cannot continue into the alley. This should allow the kids to continue to use the feature as intended while eliminating any standing water and further property damage.

city image for sandpit drainage plan

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