A $400,000 playground renovation is being planned by Ouray School District students. Designed with input from all the classes in the pre-kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools, the new playground will replace a dilapidated, weatherworn, not fully accessible outdoor activity area, originally built 80 years ago.
A youth task force, with representatives from all school levels, has been meeting a couple times a month throughout the fall semester to put together plans to be submitted in a grant application to Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) in January. The students will find out in April if the grant is funded.
At a task force meeting last week, local landscape architect Ned Bosworth presented a conceptual site plan based on drawings by senior Scout Manley. Key features of the site plan incorporated the “concise criteria” provided by students, including a ball court, a grassy play area, a shady area, a welcoming entrance, a swing set, a path for riding striders (pedal-less bikes) and access ramps for people with disabilities.
One of the most popular playground features, the ga-ga ball pit, a hexagonal play area surrounded by a wall, will be replaced. The game, originally from Israel (“ga-ga” translates to “touch-touch” in Hebrew), is a version of dodgeball, where the ball is hit and bounced by players instead of being thrown. The current pit is muddy and splintery, and not appropriate for younger ages.
“The desire for the whole playground to be accessible to all ages is the biggest challenge,” Bosworth explained.
The school has 180 students in preschool through 12th grade; all use the playground area at some point during the day. The nearest park is about a half-mile or a 15-minute walk away.
Teachers are also looking forward to bringing classes out to the renovated playground for various projects and lessons. Another feature of the proposed plan is shallow steps that create stadium seating next to the open area of the ball court. Not a part of the current playground, the new step-seats would be a welcome space for an outdoor classroom or audience area for a performance.
Students have also picked out 10 pieces of equipment, such as climbing webs, to be placed somewhere on the grounds. Actual equipment selection will depend on the budget and continued discussions among students, school staff and parents. The last equipment upgrade was in 1991.
“One thing about this plan is that it’s just a plan as of yet. Things could go very differently from now,” Bosworth said. “For instance, if people need a bigger swing set, we will need to make other areas smaller.”
If the grant is funded this year, work on the playground reconstruction could begin in the summer and partially finished by next fall. Though the school could reapply for funds next year if not successful this year, there is an urgency to complete this project within a short time frame, grant writer Danika Gilbert said.
“The retaining wall, which forms and supports the western edge of the current playground, is failing. Repair of this wall is essential to keep the western edge of the playground from giving way, as well as for safety of the community,” Gilbert noted in the grant application. “Proper repair of this wall requires a complete excavation and rebuilding of the wall, re-using the large 1883 school foundation stones.”
Original estimates for the wall repair from 2014 averaged $140,000, but with recent increases in construction costs the final repair may be closer to $200,000. A wall reconstruction budget of $150,000 was originally included in a Colorado Department of Education grant and funds from a school district mill levy passed in 2014. However, cost overruns on the main school reconstruction project left insufficient funds for the wall and playground renovation. The tentative playground/wall project budget is $400,000 with $300,000 requested from GOCO and the school paying for $100,000, a 25 percent match, with mill levy funds.
Since 1994, 35 projects in Ouray County have received at total of almost $4 million in GOCO funds, competitive grant programs for outdoor recreation and land conservation projects paid from Colorado Lottery proceeds. The City of Ouray’s Hot Springs Pool Project received $275,281 in 2016, the Ouray County Fairgrounds Grandstands received $350,000 in 2014 and the Ridgway Elementary School Playground Renovation received $100,000 in 2014, respectively. Other local projects over the last 10 years include Ridgway School District Soccer Field, Ouray Ice Park Land Purchase, Ridgway Skate Park, Ridgway Regional Athletic Park, Ouray Perimeter Trail and Ridgway Trail System Planning.