Government intrusion into childhood play combined with the loss of the iconic swings and monkey bars at the old Minden school prompted the town board to deny a $10,000 request to replace the equipment with something safer.
School Superintendent Lisa Noonan appeared May 1 before the board to ask for a donation to purchase a playground structure on the school district administrative office grounds, the site of old Minden grammar school on Mono Avenue.
Noonan told the board the federal government issued guidelines 18 months ago — without any funding — that the old playground equipment failed to measure up to new standards.
A teeter-totter and merry-go-round were removed from the playground several years ago.
The swing set and monkey bars were taken out in early April, and the school district already received complaints, Noonan said.
She said the school district was investing $600,000 in new playground equipment for the district’s elementary schools, but was hoping the town would contribute to the Minden site.
Noonan said the federal government didn’t order the equipment removed, but once the new safety guidelines came out, it was too great a risk for the district to keep the old equipment.
“Folks were very sad to see that gone,” she said.
Noonan said the district felt the $600,000 should go to the elementary schools that serve 3,000 children.
“We’re also pursuing private donations, we see ourselves as providing another park for Minden,” she said.
In her presentation to the board, Noonan said she understood the town’s budget constraints, and the timing of her request.
If the town purchased the equipment for $10,287, the school district would pay for installation and safe-fall materials at a cost of nearly $10,000.
Noonan said she didn’t want the board to feel “guilt pressure” into approving the request.
“Although we do not have a formal MOU (memo of understanding) for a shared use agreement, we do see ourselves as an additional park for the town with locals of all ages using the basketball court, grass area, picnic tables and play area daily,” Noonan said in her letter to Town Manager Jenifer Davidson.
Minden Town Board members Roxanne Stangle and Matt Bernard told Noonan they grew up within blocks of the school, and lamented the loss of the equipment.
“When I was a little kid, I went to first and second grade at Minden,” Bernard said. “I was always afraid somebody would do away with the basketball court.”
He wondered why the school district couldn’t find $10,000 within the $600,000 allocation for the equipment.
“Look at the size of our budget compared to the school district’s,” he said.
Stangle said the majority of the children who use the playground are older than the 2-5-year-olds to be served by the new equipment.
“I understand you’re under federal guidelines, but I saw those guys with a backhoe trying to rip out that ‘unsafe’ playground equipment. It could have withstood the strongest earthquake,” Stangle said.
Resident Robb Hellwinkel, who grew up across from the school, urged the board to deny the request.
“The problem we really have here in this country is that we need less government, not more. I will not support the town using any of my taxpayer dollars for this request,” Hellwinkel said.
George and Jody Brunz, who have lived across the street from the playground for 19 years, said in a letter to The Record-Courier last month that they had never seen a person hurt on the playground.
“Possibly the intentions of the school board and superintendent are to install a couple of reclining chairs and a few sofas so that the kids could bring their handheld computer games and hang out in the playground in comfortable surroundings,” The Brunzes said in their letter. “In this day and time when childhood obesity is at an all time high, we find it disturbing that our own school district would choose to not promote outdoor exercise. It was not uncommon to see a variety of all ages, from toddler to elderly, swinging daily from that swing set.”
George Brunz said at the May 1 meeting he’d recently watched an adult exercising his dog on the grass accompanied by a little boy who seemed mystified that the playground equipment was gone.
“You know what he (the boy) did?” Brunz said. “He played on the bicycle rack.”
The town board jokingly suggested the school board hold a bake sale or enlist the services of Carson Valley Middle School seventh grader Ella Dillwith and her classmates who put on a play and raised more than $2,000 for Austin’s House.
“Thank you for coming,” Bernard told Noonan. “As kind as you are, I am voting to deny this request.”