Stow -- A plan to rebuild SKiP playground has hit a snag over concerns about the estimated $252,000 cost.
A proposed ordinance authorizing advertising for bids for the design, purchase and installation of new equipment at the city-owned playground was held in City Council's March 27 finance committee meeting and therefore not introduced in Council's regular meeting later that evening.
Councilor Brian Lowdermilk, a finance committee member, said he was concerned about the proposed costs. He noted that when Mayor Sara Drew mentioned the rebuilding of the playground in her State-of-the-City presentation in January, she said the city would seek private funding in the form of donations, grants and sponsorships.
"I thought a large majority of this was going to be paid for by donations and things, but now it looks like the majority will be paid for from tax dollars," said Lowdermilk.
"I'm getting calls about roads in horrible condition," he added later. "We want to put $250,000 into a playground? I have to think about that."
In a March 3 memo to Council Vice President Mike Rasor, who chairs the finance committee, Public Service Director Nick Wren included a breakdown of funding sources, including:
• The bond forfeiture fund, with $75,000 available for the playground in funds paid by developers over the years, but for which reimbursement was never sought.
• The cell tower fund, $75,000 available in fees paid by entities leasing space on a city-owned cell tower. Director of Management and Budget John Earle said that any money in this fund is specifically earmarked for parks and recreation expenditures.
• The capital improvement fund, $62,000 projected.
• Private sources, with $40,000 the goal.
Drew told Council that the city is actively seeking private donations, including grants, and that the funding sources in the memo are for budgeting purposes and not set in stone.
"The majority of the funding is not coming out of the general fund," she said.
Wren wrote that the cost estimate "is based on an industry average of $24 per square foot of play area," about 10,500 square feet for SKiP.
"The funding components are subject to change, depending on the amount of donated and/or corporate sponsorship funds that can be obtained," wrote Wren. "An additional factor is the extent to which the community build portion of the project will result in equipment installation savings."
In an April 2 email to the Stow Sentry, Wren said that "community build" refers to volunteer labor.
"Our plan would be to have a contractor install some of the larger portions and then have a community build to install the smaller less intricate features," he wrote.
In his memo, he wrote that volunteers would be supervised by "on-staff certified playground safety inspectors."
Drew said Christ Community Chapel, which has a branch in Stow, has offered volunteers.
Councilor John Pribonic said he would bring the matter to Stow-Munroe Falls Community Foundation, which he is involved with, to determine if it can help.
"If we have $100,000 in donations," said Drew, "the cost would not jump to $352,000, it would drop to $152,000."
Law Director Brian Reali told Council that approval of the ordinance would not be an approval to spend any money on the project and that Council would not be obligated to accept any bids.
"They would have to come back to Council," he said.
Wren told Council that the wooden playground was "innovative" when it was installed in 1991, but has not stood up to climate and has becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.
"You can only sustain that so long in a Northeast Ohio environment," he said.
"From a functional standpoint, it has definitely outlived its usefulness," added Drew.
In his memo, Wren wrote that "the industry recommendation for a wooden playground in a northeast Ohio climate is 15 years" and that the city's parks maintenance division has eliminated some features in past years as they deteriorate. He wrote that "the condition of the playground is such that it will soon have to be deconstructed for safety reasons."
"SKiP playground has long been a source of pride within the Stow community," wrote Wren. "It is our intent to preserve this sense of pride and pay homage to the many volunteers who invested countless hours into this award-winning project, and their community. City Council approval will allow us to extend that pride to the current and future generations of families that have chosen to call Stow home."
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