Riverside Elementary District 96 would like to put in a playground this summer designed for the children who attend the district’s childhood education program which is based at Hollywood School.
But there is just one problem.
The district wants to put the playground on land that is owned by the Hollywood Community Association (HCA), and the HCA says it won’t allow a playground for early childhood students on its land unless the district also promises to replace the existing playground, which is designed for 5- to 12-year-olds, by no later than 2018.
The existing playground, which is also on HCA-owned land, is about 13 years old and the equipment is nearing the end of its expected useful life. In February, Hollywood School Principal Kim Hefner told the school board that the existing playground was not in great shape. A zip line that caused a number of injuries, for example, had been removed.
The majority of the school board, while saying they hope to replace or add to playgrounds at all its elementary schools except for Blythe Park School by the summer of 2017, is unwilling to give the HCA a guarantee that it will replace Hollywood’s aging playground.
On April 25, four members of the HCA met with District 96 school board President Jeff Miller, school board member Rich Regan and Interim Superintendent Patrick Patt, but the meeting did not resolve the standoff.
“It really wasn’t a productive meeting,” said Gonzo Schexnayder the president of the Hollywood Community Association.
Some of the HCA members at the meeting said they felt that district officials were insulting and even bullying. One HCA member simply got up and walked out about halfway through the approximately 80-minute meeting.
“They were unprofessional all around,” said HCA Vice President Jennifer Perry, a former Hollywood School PTA president who was at the meeting and did not walk out.
At the meeting, Schexnayder said he made a few proposals including extending by one year, to 2018, the time for the district to put in a new K-5 playground. He also asked that the district consider using some of the Hollywood School parking lot space, land owned by District 96, to put in a new playground for toddlers.
District officials are sticking to their position not to make any guarantees, but they also appeared conciliatory after the meeting.
“We’re continuing to look at what our options are,” Miller said. “We want to work with them and find a solution that works for everyone.”
But no further meetings are scheduled for now.
In 2014, the HCA told the district it would be interested in using more of its land to improve the existing playground. School district officials knew they needed playground equipment suitable for younger children and in 2015 formed a 19-person playground committee to study the issue.
In February, the committee came to the school board with a proposal with two alternatives. One was to build a new toddler playground; the other proposal was putting in a new K-5 playground in addition to a new toddler playground.
Putting in both playgrounds at the same time would result in a projected discount from the manufacturer of the playground equipment of $4,572.
However, the majority of the school board was uncomfortable with replacing the Hollywood School playground before replacing or upgrading the playgrounds at Ames and Central schools, so the board decided to just go ahead with the toddler playground.
Blythe Park School is served by the playground in Blythe Park, owned by the village of Riverside, and is not in need of an upgrade.
Miller said the school board didn’t fully appreciate the HCA’s position.
“We totally had different expectations,” Miller said. “And, frankly, I blame myself. It’s their land. It was kind of a learning experience.”
Miller said the school board is uncomfortable giving the HCA a guarantee, although it plans to upgrade playgrounds in 2017.
“We want to be equitable between the schools, make sure all the schools are being treated fairly,” Miller said. “Even though it is highly probable, even though it is our firm intention and one of our top goals, I think the board feels very reluctant to give that kind of guarantee.”
For now the district has cancelled its purchase order of $23,137 for playground equipment designed for 2- to 5-year-olds. But if some kind of deal can be reached, the equipment can be re-ordered and installed this summer.
“Hopefully those early childhood kids will have a playground by this summer,” Patt said. “We’ll just have to keep taking a look at what’s going to work, not a lot of time to do it.”
Miller said he hopes an agreement can be reached.
“We have similar goals here, so we should be able to find something that is satisfactory to everyone,” Miller said.