Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board members expressed support Wednesday for replacing the aging, wooden playground at Strawberry Park Elementary School with a playground accessible to children with disabilities.
Whether the Fund Board, which administers the city's half-cent sales tax for education, can afford granting the full $250,000 request from Julie Taulman and Shelly St. Pierre, parents of children with disabilities who are spearheading the project, remains in doubt.
Taulman and St. Pierre hope to build "universal playgrounds" at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools. Such playgrounds are designed to accommodate children with mental and physical disabilities as well as able-bodied children, who won't notice the differences from typical jungle gyms.
Fund Board members Robin Crossan and Mike Loomis said they were concerned that the proposal, which was presented for first reading Wednesday night, dipped into the Fund Board's reserve fund, rather than general fund.
Crossan said she was unsure whether the Fund Board should spend large reserve funds until renewal of the half-cent sales tax is resolved. The Fund Board plans to present the sales tax to voters for renewal in November 2008. The tax expires Dec. 31, 2009, if voters reject the renewal.
Fund Board Member Ann Barbier, who presented the playground project on behalf of the Capital Commission, said she thought it was a good opportunity to use reserve funds.
"We had that big building use tax surplus that came in the fall, as well as the fact that our reserves are $2.9 million," she said. "It was my impression that the (Fund Board) was trying to cut down on the reserves, and now they are even higher than they were last year."
The Fund Board is divided into three commissions that address capital, technology and educational excellence needs.
The Capital Commission also presented for first readings to the Fund Board - a $1.5 million request to complete the Steamboat Springs Middle School expansion project, $125,000 to mach a school security grant, and $80,000 to fund a grant writer for the Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts.
Fund Board Member Julie Ernst presented the middle school funding request, arguing that the building administrative offices to the front of the building will enhance student safety and comply with the district's strategic plan and facility audit.
The Fund Board previously awarded the middle school project $1.25 million, but because of escalating construction costs and the lack of competitive bids, the project stalled after initial groundwork was completed.
"We shouldn't leave what we started unfinished," Ernst said.
Middle School Principal Tim Bishop said the project would increase security at the school, by monitoring who enters and the leaves the school, and academics with the addition of more classroom and support staff space.
The Fund Board next meets Feb. 6, when additional funding requests will receive a first reading. Taulman and Bishop hope their requests receive a second reading to move their projects one step closer to fruition.
"We are going to do these playgrounds whether you give us money or not," Taulman said. "But what you contribute may benefit the whole community for the next 20 to 25 years."
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