MANATEE -- After the school day ends at Mills Elementary School, Crisse Hoffman walks with her children to the playground at Buffalo Creek Park.
The Ellenton resident comes four days a week to the park at 7550 69th St. E., Palmetto, with her two children, Braden, 3, and Ava, 5, for the playground. The Buffalo Creek playground is one of three Manatee County parks where equipment was recently replaced.
"We are very happy with it, much improved over the last one," Hoffman said Thursday afternoon as she watched her children play.
Ava said she enjoys coming to the playground "because it's so fun."
In addition to the playground at Buffalo Creek, which reopened in late December, playground equipment at Braden River Park, 5201 51st. E., Bradenton, and Ola Mae Sims Park, 11800 Erie Road, Parrish, were also replaced. The Braden River playground, which reopened Tuesday, was the last one completed as the Ola Mae Sims playground was finished in the beginning of December.
Charlie Hunsicker, county Parks and Natural Resources Department director, said residents were looking forward to the new playgrounds.
"They are in very active areas and a lot of folks are looking forward to the playgrounds," Hunsicker said. "Everything we do is very visible in that way and always anticipated just like the fair."
The Braden River Park playground replacement cost just more than $87,000, with Buffalo Creek playground replacement costs coming in around $73,000 and Ola Mae Sims costing about $19,000.
For the total cost to replace the playgrounds, Hunsicker said the equipment meets the county's expectations.
"We have always driven to have the best that we can afford," he said, adding there are more expensive playgrounds out there.
Playgrounds at Buffalo Creek and Ola Mae Sims parks are intended for ages 2 to 12, and the playground at Braden River is for children ages 5 to 12.
The next playground projects include Myakka Community Park, Pride Park and G.T. Bray Park while Moody Branch Preserve in Duette is scheduled for a playground per an agreement with the state.
Hunsicker said the playground projects will be done as they "are able to line up the ordering and get the sites prepared and get them installed."
As the county continues to recover from the recession, Hunsicker said they are catching up on deferred equipment maintenance.
"Now that we are walking our way out of this recession, we are starting to catch up," Hunsicker said. "We have a list of needs that are larger than normal because we have done less maintenance than normal."
Mike Whelan, with the county Parks and Natural Resources Department, said equipment has become more modern over the years.
"In some cases we can repair, but in most we have to replace," Whelan said.
Playgrounds are inspected monthly, Hunsicker said.
"If we find a safety concern, we immediately close the equipment," he said. "We will go to the most in need first."
A dedicated fund for equipment repair and replacement would help so the county would have "a managed plan so that we can forecast our needs and work deliberately to repair them," Hunsicker has said.
"There will never not be a role for creative play whether or not that is for children or adults," Hunsicker said. "We hope as a department to be there providing that opportunity. That is our mission to do so."
Ellenton resident Lauren Przybyla was pushing 21-month-old, Layla, on the swings Thursday afternoon at Buffalo Creek. While only their second time at the park, Przybyla said they enjoy the swings, slide and getting fresh air.
"There seems like there are always kids here," she said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.