By Krizelle Solidum

Responding to comments from parents, the Municipality of Skagway will pull up the rubber mulch at Skagway School and Mollie Walsh Park and replace the surfaces with  wood chips.

The work will be done this summer, as part of a capital improvement project sponsored by the municipality. 

“We heard from parents who indicated that rubber dust was on their children’s skin and was creating rings in their clothes dryer,” said Assemblymember Steve Burnham, finance committee chair.

Another problem was that some of the rubber tire mulch has been spotted in Pullen Creek and the woods surrounding Mollie Walsh Park.

 Hamilton Construction of Anchorage will deliver and install the wood chips and remove the rubber mulch for $98,854, Burnham said.

Wood chips were chosen from among several alternatives for padding on playgrounds such as wood mulch, pea gravel and rubber mulch.

The natural wood chips typically last up to seven years and cost between $1.50 to $3 per square foot depending on the materials, size of area and installation. 

Rubber mulch is made from shredded pieces of 100% non-tire, wire-free, lead-free, nontoxic recycled rubber tiles. The shredded rubber can last up to 20 years. The shredded tiles often come from hospitals and day cares, according to the manufacturer, Jelly Bean Rubber Mulch.  

Ultimately, community members decided they wanted to stay away from the toxins of rubber. 

“When the rubber mulch was put down the community was concerned about health impacts,” said Borough Manager Brad Ryan. 

Another reason wood chips were chosen over rubber mulch was the significant cost difference. 

“Last fall’s bid costs for Jelly Bean Virgin Rubber Mulch was $300,830, Poured in Place was in the range of $308,000 to $317,000 and Engineered Wood Fiber (made from the core of trees) was $152,500,” Burnham said. 

“In 1985, the original playground material at the school was wood chips and it was maintained for years,” said Burnham. 

The most important thing is to “work to maintain a non-toxic environment for the kids,” said School Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran.