ARLINGTON -- With little to show from three years of fundraising, Fisher Elementary's Parent Teacher Group asked the Arlington School District board Wednesday help replace the elementary school's aging playground, pieces of which are unsafe.
Principal Deanne Lacoste told the board some of the equipment -- all of which dates back 30 to 40 or more years -- is unsafe and will be closed to children based on safety concerns raised during an inspection by a company that installs the equipment.
"There are some significant safety issues and I'm going to have to shut down some pieces based on safety alone," Lacoste said.
The school board was reluctant to ask taxpayers to cover the $75,000 to $150,000 bill, but the board agreed it needs to involve itself in the process. A potential solution could be asking voters to use the school district's fund balance for the upgrades, however that could not happen until the fiscal year 2012 audit is complete this spring so the board knows exactly how much of a surplus it has.
The need for a new playground was brought to the school board's attention three years ago when Lacoste gave a presentation on its status. At that time the board asked the PTG to take on fundraising efforts for the project, but the group has raised just over $2,500 since that time.
In addition to a difficult economy, teacher and parent Jennifer Wright, who updated the school board on the PTG's progress Wednesday, said low PTG participation numbers has made it difficult to hold events.
"We typically have four or five parents that attend our meeting along with Deanne once a month, and we are in charge of coming up with the events and fundraisers," Wright said.
To raise money for the playground Wright said the PTG has done a gift card sale, held a dinner fundraiser at McDonald's and sent out corporate and community solicitation letters.
"Unfortunately over the past few years the playground has continued to age and it's our opinion we need to do something about the current playground sooner than later," Wright said. "With our current membership and the size of our community, we just are not going to be able to hold the fundraisers that are going to raise the money that we need for the playground."
"We are coming back to you to request that you ask the taxpayers to help us fund a new playground, because at the rate we're going my grandchildren won't ever get to play on the new playground," she said.
Board Chairman Todd Wilkins said he agreed that the board needs to help, but he would prefer to wait to see if there is a fund balance the board could ask taxpayers if they wanted to use for a playground.
"The school board at this point needs to start to take some onus on this," Wilkins said. "At the end of the day it's the school board's responsibility to make sure our schools and our grounds are safe for the students."
Members of the board also had other suggestions to help defray costs such as searching for grants, downsizing the playground, buying equipment piece by piece, or doing a "community build," as was done at the town park a couple years ago.
In addition to at least one slide that will be shut down, Lacoste said there are a number of other safety concerns that staff can likely fix for the short term including rusty swing chains and potential entrapment spaces.
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