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Central MVP group working towards new MSl playground

Five years ago, St. Croix Central paraprofessional DeeDee Koss was struck by how few options middle school students had for playground equipment when they were allowed to go outside for recess.

"I'd say it struck me when I saw just that one little set of monkey bars that we have out there for the kids. Fifth and sixth grade students are still interested in a playground and play equipment, but there is nothing," Koss said. "Most of the recess time is spent out along the basketball court. And certainly not everybody is interested in basketball and there isn't quite enough space for a football game or anything like that."

So when Koss — the parent of a middle and elementary school student — was hired by the district a few years ago, she started asking around the district, especially at the middle school, if there was interest in getting a new playground funded to give students more options.

"All of the parents I asked said that we absolutely did need one," Koss said. "I then got involved with the Middle School Volunteer Program (MVP), which is lead by Sarah Pommerening, and started talking about getting a playground at the middle school. So I went to Pete Nusbaum, the middle school principal, and asked him where we should start," Koss said.

According to Koss, plans for the new playground have been drawn up and bids for the project have been collected.

"Nusbaum suggested we talk with the Minnesota Wisconsin Playground company, which is the one he worked with when he was at the elementary school," Koss said. "We talked with them about the placement for a new playground and they said that we would have one option for a playground, which would be right next to the basketball court."

After consulting with Minnesota Wisconsin Playgrounds, Koss was able to take several options to teachers, students and the special education department to make sure that everyone was able to give their feedback.

"The company was able to give us 3D versions of our ideas as the playground evolved and was able to give us estimates on what everything would cost and what grants we could write to get it funded. Playgrounds are a lot more expensive than I had thought," Koss said. "When I got the numbers back, we got a proposal with an estimate for having wood chips on the ground. But when we started to think about this as more of a large community project than just a school project, we thought we would meet the needs of everybody in the community if the playground was something that could be played on year round."

After finalizing the equipment that would be included in the new playground, Koss and the district started looking at which flooring would best serve all students. The first, and cheaper option, would be to use wood chips, which Koss said would cost around $10,000 to cover the entire area. The second option was poured rubber, which Koss felt would be ideal to allow everyone, even those in wheelchairs or who need walkers, to use the equipment. However, the poured rubber option would cost around $100,000, which would include the concrete that would need to go under the rubber surface.

Koss and the district have submitted a grant to help fund the project, with two levels of money requested, one for each flooring option. A total of $163,000 was requested to fully fund the project to include both the equipment and the poured rubber surface, while the second option, using wood chips instead of the rubber, would cost $88,000 with the playground equipment included. Koss also added benches and tables into both proposals to allow students a place to sit and talk while they were at recess, which was requested by the students.

"Hopefully that will encourage students when they have an option to go outside or stay inside to go outside and get some fresh air," Koss said. "We want it to be a place for the community to play and be safe where everybody can enjoy something there."

In an effort get fundraising started, the MVP group has hosted a variety of events.

"We have already done a few fundraisers to start gathering funds for the project, like selling spirit wear, Art to Remember — where students create a piece of art and it gets sent in to the company for parents to then buy buttons or magnets of that piece of art — and a burger night at Parkside. That was very successful," Koss said.

"We will also have a Boosterthon Fun Run at the middle school on Feb. 22, and a second one at the elementary on Feb. 23. That is a 10-day program where this Boosterthon company comes in and gets the kids excited about fitness and character education. Then people pledge for those kids to run during a glow run fun run. We hope that will be very successful."

Koss and the MVP group gave a presentation on the playground project at the school district's most recent school board meeting.

"Ideally, if we get the money from the grant — which we won't find out about until May — we would move ahead with the project in the summer," Koss said. "If we don't get the grant, we will have to talk more at that point since we haven't really solidified what we will do next if we don't get it. If we just wait until we get the money for our ideal, possibly wait another year and apply again for the grant, then we would be waiting for a while or it might not get done.

"So we will look at the wood chips if it comes to it, but that won't serve the needs of somebody in a wheelchair, on crutches or with a walker. That makes it tricky since we want to make sure everybody can use it."

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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