County pledges $3,000 for elementary school playground equipment

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At its Dec. 16 meeting, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners voted to earmark $3,000 to help purchase new playground equipment for Pagosa Springs Elementary School, but not without issuing a challenge for the school to receive additional cash donations for the project.

The request, which was brought before the BoCC by the county’s Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Trails (PROST) Taskforce chair Gwen Taylor and PSES Principal Kate Lister, was for $6,000 that would help pay for a new tire swing and slide for the school’s south playground, near its fields.

According to agenda documentation for the item, the school’s project goal “is to enhance this fitness goal by eliminating old playground equipment that has little usage and replacing them with highly active equipment.”

The project goal, the agenda also states, pairs with the school’s goal to increase the health and fitness of its students.

In presenting the item to the board, Taylor indicated that the school was asking for $6,000 — 52 percent of the total project cost — and added that the school would perform $4,000 of in-kind work to disassemble the current equipment and assemble the new equipment, and that the parents’ organization, Partners in Education (P.I.E.), was contributing $1,634.95 it had raised during the school’s recent read-a-thon.

The tire swing is slated to cost just under $1,900, while the slide is listed at $4,700.

“Wow,” Commissioner Michael Whiting stated following Taylor’s introduction, then clarifying with Taylor and Lister that the school’s contribution would be “man and machine.”

He also asked where the town’s contribution was, receiving the response that the town was not included in the funding for the project.

“I hate to be the bad guy in this one,” Commissioner Steve Wadley began, noting that he felt it was a lot of money for a swinging tire.

At that point, Lister explained that it was not an old-fashioned tire swing, but is a horizontal tire with three chains and a structure that meets all safety requirements.

Wadley then stated that he said it “comes up a lot” that the county comes up with cash for a project while other entities perform in-kind work, adding that $4,000 was a lot to dismantle the old equipment and install the new.

He also noted that the school has a higher mill levy than the county, which feeds them more property tax revenue.

Taylor noted that the project fit the purpose of the 1A parks and recreation funding, with the playground also serving as a park.

Wadley continued that he knows the schools are “strapped,” but that the price tag seemed high and the county was bearing the lion’s share.

Whiting said he understood the high cost of the equipment, but stated he wanted to see the town fund the project with cash, as well.

“I don’t want to see this fail,” Commissioner Clifford Lucero said, calling it “needed” and suggesting a compromise in which other funding partners would be sought out.

But the board’s regular meeting was not the first meeting of the day in which the board had discussed the request and that some of the above points had been made.

Earlier that day, in the board’s regular Tuesday morning work session, the commissioners discussed the item during an agenda review, with multiple commissioners commenting on what they thought was a high price for the equipment.

At that meeting, Whiting noted use of the school’s south playground as a park of sorts for kids in the community, while County Attorney Todd Starr warned the commissioners to be careful discussing the item prior to that afternoon’s regular meeting.

Despite the warning, commissioner discussion continued, with Wadley questioning the school’s participation and asking how much the school had “shopped around” for the equipment to obtain a good price.

At that point, County Administrator Bentley Henderson noted that the school was dismantling the old equipment and installing the new equipment, also adding that nine businesses had donated to the project (via donating to the read-a-thon).

Lucero suggested that the board could ask for an additional commitment from the school, while Whiting noted, “I know we’re getting close to deliberation here” before the conversation wound down.

In making a motion that afternoon, then, Whiting suggested that the county pledge $3,000 to the project if the town would match with $3,000.

Wadley called the suggestion “fair,” adding that he would personally donate $100 to the project and suggested the school look at other funding partners.

Starr asked if the $3,000 match could only be made by the town, citing an example that perhaps parents could come up with additional funding.

In the final motion, made by Wadley, the county pledged an amount not to exceed $3,000, with the school directed to raise the other necessary funds.

Whiting again added his preference that the additional funds come from the town.

The county also clarified that there was no time limit for the additional matching funds to be raised in order for the school to access the county’s $3,000.

In other business at the meeting, the board:

• Approved a series of annual documents for the Archuleta County Human Services Department.

• Approved paying $4,000 to the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout coalition.

According to the agenda, “Hinsdale County concluded that all Colorado Counties will be impacted by numerous species in the future to one extent or another. Therefore, we will all have a cost burden to share in varying amounts as time goes along. Hence the conclusion by the seven counties of the SLVCA (San Luis Valley Citizens Alliance) and Hinsdale County to share this cost equitably in the amount of $4,000.00 per county.”