Steamboat Springs The Education Fund Board voted, 7-4, to gift up to $250,000 to replace an aging wooden playground at Strawberry Park Elementary School with one that will be accessible to all children, including those with disabilities. The funds also will be used to build a playground at the new Soda Creek Elementary School.
Julie Taulman and Shelly St. Pierre, parents of Strawberry Park students, have spearheaded the effort to build the "universal playgrounds" that are designed to accommodate children with mental and physical disabilities as well as able-bodied children.
Soft rubber padding would replace wood chips as a playing surface, allowing wheelchairs and walkers access to the area. Taulman said the increased accessibility comes with a price, but she hopes a three-pronged fundraising approach will raise as much as $800,000.
The Fund Board's $250,000 takes care of one of the three prongs, and the group hopes to raise an equal amount from grants and the community.
Fund Board member and School Board President Robin Crossan voted against gifting money toward the playground project because there is no assurance the community will match the Fund Board's $250,000.
"The only reason I will vote against this is because I want the community to bring $250,000 toward it," she said. "If the community believes in it, then there is a way to raise the money."
A community fundraising arm has raised $33,000 from the Parent Information Committees at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park, but Crossan argued that the PIC money is grant money, not community funds.
Fund Board member Jim Kurowski said he would not vote for the gift because the money draws from the Fund Board's reserves.
"I guess what I was taught when I came on this board (is) we don't do this, we don't go outside of our budget," he said.
Fund Board members Mark Andersen and Denise Connelly also voted against the gift toward the playground project.
Michael Loomis, Kristi Brown, Ann Barbier, Carolyn Peters, Tom Ptach, Harry Lambart and Sue MacCarthy voted for the gift.
"I've always felt that if a project comes forward that is really compelling and it doesn't fit into the time restraint of the budget process, we shouldn't exclude that just because that's what we've done before," Loomis said. "The timing is right to do it now, we are in this construction process with Soda Creek and it doesn't make sense to delay it just because it doesn't fit into our timeline."
The School Board must accept gifts from the Fund Board before the money can be spent. Crossan and Connelly are School Board members, and their 'no' votes indicate that even Fund Board approval for the playground money might not guarantee the district accepts it.
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