Misunderstanding puts playground plan on hold

September 21, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer PTC

An effort to install new playground equipment at Longfellow Elementary School hit a snag this week due to what county school officials are calling a misunderstanding by PTA leaders.

Although parents and children at the school have collected about $19,000, they learned that they may have to raise thousands more or re-evaluate their ambitious plans for two complete sets of equipment.

Parents and school officials both agree that Longfellow needs the new equipment. Its 23-year-old playground is showing its age and is too sparsely furnished to accommodate the more than 400 students at the school.

PTA leaders believed that the county had agreed to pay for the installation of the equipment if the community could raise enough money to buy it.

A grant proposal seeking money from the Harper's Choice Village Board, which eventually earmarked $7,500 for the project, stated that PTA leaders had received "an oral commitment from the Board of Education that they would pay for the cost of installing playground equipment and placing an approved underlayment beneath it."

But county school officials say no such promise had ever been made.

"The Board [of Education] does not fund new playgrounds at existing schools, and it has never paid for the installation of new equipment at existing schools," said Sydney Cousin, the county's associate superintendent for finance and operations.

One contractor has estimated that it would cost $23,000 to install the $18,000 worth of equipment that the PTA plans to purchase, Dr. Cousin said. "We will do whatever we can to help the parents, but there is no way we can pay $23,000 for installation of equipment."

Parents say they are disappointed at the delays and confusion.

"I have lived all over the world, and I have never seen a community come together to raise that kind of money," said Helen D'Amore, a member of the Harper's Choice village board.

"It was not just the PTA getting donations, either. The kids worked really hard to get this playground. It's a shame that it's not going to happen yet," Ms. D'Amore said.

What happens next is unclear, according to Rebecca Johnson, the co-chairwoman of the PTA's playground fund-raising committee. "What we're going to do shortly is have a meeting of PTA playground people and figure out where to go next."

County school officials, PTA leaders and Allan J. Olchowski, the principal at Longfellow, met Friday and Monday.

After Monday's meeting, Dr. Cousin pledged that, to save the PTA money, the school system will use its employees to do whatever work they can do, including most of the preparation of the safety cushioning on the ground beneath the equipment.

But he said the PTA may need to re-evaluate the extent of its plans to refurnish the playground.

"We asked the PTA to go back and look at what they were ordering and look at other vendors and other installers," Dr. Cousin said.

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