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HOTL to get new playground next year

After eight years of planning and fundraising, a new playground is in sight for Heart of the Lakes Elementary School.

Perham-Dent School Board members voted to allow the process of planning for the playground and ordering the equipment to move ahead in anticipation of next school year.

The current playground is 24 years old, original to the elementary school building, said HOTL Principal Jen Hendrickson.

Expected lifespan for a system is between 15 and 20 years. A new playground is needed for next year because of wear, tear and general safety concerns that have started to become an insurance liability.

“It’s seen lots of life,” Hendrickson said.

The system that has been selected has a price tag of $105,000 for the equipment. It will be ordered through Midwest Playscapes of Chaska, Minn. An existing play web will be repaired and reinstalled as part of the new complex. When the time comes, the old equipment will be taken out and the ground will be leveled. A base layer of concrete will be poured, and then a rubber surfacing will be installed under the equipment.

“It turns out to be about as much or more than the equipment,” Hendrickson said of the rubber surfacing. However, this cost might be covered by health and safety dollars that are set aside each year.

The rubber surface will make the playground more accessible for children and adults with disabilities. Depending on the condition of current playground pieces, the city of Perham may decide to repair and reuse some existing equipment in its own park areas.

The new playground will be located exactly where the current playground is. It will stay in its current spot, on the other side of the bus loop from the school, in case there might be a need for the building to expand in the future.

On the financial side, the school has secured most of the funding needed for the equipment. Fundraising efforts by the school have collected about $50,000 over the past eight years. Community groups and local businesses have also contributed more than $11,000 to the total. In early May, Hendrickson expects to learn whether the district received a $25,000 Otto Bremer Foundation grant. With the grant, the grand total would be sitting at about $86,000.

Hendrickson said several other groups have made verbal commitments to donate, but have not confirmed a specific amount. She said United Community Bank will hold an e-statement drive until the end of the year, donating $5 to the playground for each new sign-up.

“I think we’ll get there,” Hendrickson said.

If the total amount is not raised by the time final payment is due, the school board agreed to temporarily front the outstanding balance. In that situation, any following fundraisers or donations would be used to repay the district. The community is invited to contribute to the playground on a smaller scale as well, Hendrickson said: “If groups or people want to donate a bench, or a garbage can or a tree…that would be great.”

The playground will be a community space, Hendrickson emphasized, noting the inclusion of equipment for children ages 2 to teenager.

“We’re just excited,” Hendrickson said. “It’s going to be unique and different.”