Playground projects are joining forces, city

Friday, January 3, 2020

For the better part of the past year, an Alta-Aurelia school parent-teacher committee has been discussing the need to update or replace the 20-year-old wooden school playground, while members of the city park board have been separately looking at expanding or adding a new playground in the city park.

Lately, the two groups have even realizing they can achieve more together than they can separately.

“We’re trying to do it as a team effort - we think we can get more money raised as a group to possibly do both projects at the same time,” explains Heidi Reetz, of the Alta Park Board.

The two groups plan to get together Wednesday to hash out some of the details toward a fund drive.

“I think we both have the same philosophy - go big or go home,” Reetz says. “Alta needs a big play area. We don’t want our families having to drive to some other town to play.”

The school playground has some concerns with wear, and has lately been infested with wasps, she said. “Wood looks cool, but you deal with weathering, the need to keep staining, and attracting insects as the material ages.” The plans will take durability as well as fun factor into consideration.

Meanwhile, in the adjacent city park, some of the equipment is very old and borderline unsafe.

Residents are aware of the needs, but with two separate projects under discussion, have been uncertain. “People around town are like, ‘Which one do we give money to?’” Reetz says.

The schools and their PTO Committee have an advantage, with more avenues to fundraise than a city government does, she feels.

With the school’s playground having some issues with older kids destroying equipment during high school football games, it is likely that the school playground will need to be locked at such times. Having a better city playground will give children somewhere to go if the school site is closed, Reetz feels.

In the planning process, both groups feel it is important to listen to the community’s kids.

“When I talk to my own kids, they are more interested in a ‘Ninja Warrior’ type playground - something with some challenge to it. Other kids may like to swing, like to slide, and some may like climbing equipment and nets,” Reetz said. “At our next meeting, we will be talking about how we can get some ideas from the kids - they will be the ones using it the most.”

Much remains to be decided. Will the two projects work with the same designer and equipment provider, and utilize the same materials? How will donated money be divided? With no current equipment designed for preschool and younger children, will one or both projects address that need?

While it may take time to raise the funds, Reetz said she hopes to see projects successful while she is serving on the board. “It’s something the town needs, and we want to get it done for Alta.”

Many people probably don’t realize how expensive modern playground equipment can be. A recently-purchased “generation swing” - designed for a parents to swing with a young child - alone cost $1,200. “The new mothers and their children are going to love it,” Reetz said. The park board has obtained the swing, and will install it near the park shelter next spring.

There is also new technology emerging in the playground industry that could add exciting possibilities. Musical playground equipment could be considered for the school playground, to teach young children a basic appreciation for notes and music making. Sensory playground equipment that is especially valuable for disabled children is another coming trend.

The park also lacks seating, the board notes, and suggests that memorial benches may be one option that donors could consider. With elm trees facing infestation in the park area, future tree donations to replace the lost trees with other species may be a possibility.

More plans for fundraising are expected later, but in the meantime, anyone who wants to contribute can do so at the city hall or school office, noting if there is a preference for which playground they would like funds to go toward.

The two groups are also beginning to look into potential grant resources.