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Kiddieland inspection complete; Kiwanis club working on fixes

A state safety official has inspected Kiwanis Kiddieland and the amusement park is now working to remedy a host of deficiencies so the decades-old Merced landmark can re-open.

Kiddieland, a six-ride, nonprofit children’s amusement park located in Applegate Park, was shutdown last month after state officials discovered it had never submitted to a legally required California safety inspection.

An investigator with the state’s Department of Industrial Relations visited the park last week, said Mike Wegley, vice president of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Merced, which operates Kiddieland.

Though the state has yet to issue a formal report based on its inspection, Kiddieland is already working to correct several deficiencies that were uncovered.

The following are among the improvements the park must make before re-opening, Wegley said:-Kiddieland must find or develop safety manuals for several of its rides.

-The park’s train ride requires minor repairs.

-The park’s “Go-Gator” rollercoaster requires major repairs, including welding and electrical work.

-Kiddieland must designate and post rider height restrictions along with other safety-related signs.

-The park’s workers must attend first aid and CPR courses and undergo more formal training on operating Kiddieland’s rides.

The state’s inspection report, which could come out this week, could ask for more improvements, Wegley said. “We’ll have to wait for that before we know everything, but we’re getting started now based on what (inspectors) are telling us,” he said.

The Kiwanis Club hopes to re-open by October, club officials said.

Erika Monterroza, a Department of Industrial Relations spokeswoman, said it’s hard to say whether that timeline is realistic.

“It’ll be up to them and it will depend on how quickly they come into compliance,” she said. “We’re working very closely with them and providing them as much information as we can so they can get there as soon as possible.”

Once Kiddieland addresses all the deficiencies, the park will have to submit to a second inspection before the state will grant it permission to re-open, Monterroza said.

The Kiwanis Club, a local chapter of the international community service organization, opened Kiddieland in 1957.Before August, the state apparently didn’t know the amusement park existed. Safety officials discovered the park — and its failure to submit to yearly safety inspections — after another amusement park brought the matter to the state’s attention, officials said.

The Kiwanis Club has said it didn’t know an inspection was required. When the park opened 51 years ago, inspections weren’t required. No one at Kiwanis knew the law had changed, club president Karen Adams said.

“We thought we were exempt. It’s not that we’ve been asleep at the wheel for 51 years,” she said.

Kiwanis officials have said they conduct regular safety checks of their own at Kiddieland based on common sense and that they’ve made several safety upgrades over the years, including the addition of seat belts to its rides. It’s also made safety improvements to satisfy requirements imposed by its insurance company, Wegley said.

No one has ever been seriously injured at Kiddieland. It’s rides — a merry-go-round, a train ride, a “Go-Gator” roller coaster, a helicopter ride, a car ride and a rocket ship ride — are all geared toward small children.

“Safety has always been a top priority for us,” Adams said. “This is just going to make us even safer, so we’re trying to see it as a positive.”

Still, the closure couldn’t have come at a worse time for Kiddieland: the height of its open season. The park is open weekends from March to October. Several children’s birthday parties scheduled there had to be canceled.