New playground? Not so soon

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – It appears Aspen Elementary School students hoping for a new and improved playground are going to have to wait at least another year. But district officials say it will be worth the wait.

“We understand the importance of this project to our students, faculty and families,” said Aspen Superintendent John Maloy, who recently sent a letter to parents updating them on the playground project. “But we want to do it right, and that means a bigger financial investment and a longer timeline.”

According to Maloy’s letter, construction of the new playground could begin next summer and be completed before the 2011-12 school year.

“Keep in mind this is all tentative, as much is dependent on what we learn about the total costs of this new comprehensive plan,” he said. “We are in the process of determining that now and will then have a discussion with the school board on how to proceed.”

At the end of the last school year, the district committed $15,000 to playground improvements, which would have been used for regrading and reseeding the playground surface. The school’s parent-teacher organization was to raise funds for new playground equipment (more than $56,000 was raised at the first AES Run for Funds in May and is now in an account earmarked for the playground).

However, as planning for the new playground unfolded, it became clear that small-scale improvements might not be in the best interests of the district or its students.

“Because so many parents are passionate about making the playground a safer and more fun environment for our kids, the district has reconsidered the $15,000 quick fix and is considering a much bigger project,” PTO President Stacey Greene wrote in a letter to parents. “We realize that this is disappointing to fourth-graders, but we think that an upgrade to the playground is much more desirable than a quick fix that would have to be addressed again in the near future.”

Among the improvements now being considered, at an estimated cost of $750,000 to $1 million, are draining issues, regrading and reseeding the playground surface, resurfacing a road between the school and the playground, reconfiguring the loading dock “hammerhead” and landscaping of the playground.

“As you can see, this work encompasses much more than the elementary school playground,” Maloy said. “In fact, much of this is work at the middle school that will have to be done regardless, for safety reasons and efficiency.

“When we looked at all of these projects, we realized they are connected, and so it makes sense to consider them in one, more significant project, rather than do them piecemeal.”

Maloy said funds for the larger project would likely come from land dedication fees, but cautioned parents in his letter that until “the final dollar amounts are determined and discussed between the board and the administration, a commitment to fund any part of the project cannot take place.”

The next step in the process, according to the timeline issued by Maloy, is for the school board to review and approve a concept for the playground. Plans would then be finalized and bids sought to determine the cost of the project.