School board counters City offer

Should it stay or should it go? That is the question surrounding the playground equipment at Custer School, addressed again by the Broken Bow School Board Monday evening. As construction progresses on the new school project at North Park, details such as playground equipment for the new school are under discussion. Once the project is complete, Custer will house 5th and 6th grades, prompting the school administration and school board to examine the question of leaving the current playground equipment at that school or moving it to North Park. Principal Kim Jonas explains that this particular equipment is suited for younger students, and she has noticed less usage of the playground with the upper grades. The concern, however, is not so much with leaving the students at Custer without playground equipment - but rather leaving the children of the south side of town without it. In an effort to address that concern, the district made an offer to the City of Broken Bow to “purchase” the playground for $25,000. Superintendent Mark Sievering explains how they arrived at that figure; the initial cost of the equipment was approximately $50,000, when it was purchased seven or eight years ago. The equipment has an estimated life span of 20 years, so Sievering says they felt half of that cost was a reasonable number. That offer was presented to the City Council Oct. 23. At that meeting, Broken Bow Mayor Cecil Burt told the Council that he had been contacted by several community members expressing their desire to leave the playground at Custer. The mayor said he also supports that course of action. However, the council members did not all agree. Council members Cody Schmick and Bill Adams both stated they thought that amount was too high, and after some discussion the council approved a motion to offer the school district $15,000 for the playground with the conditions that the equipment would not be moved and that the school district maintain the equipment and the liability. That brought the issue back before the school board Monday. Sievering stated that he has been approached by several community members requesting the equipment not be moved. “I still believe it is financially beneficial to move it,” said Sievering. “But from the big picture standpoint it is beneficial for it to stay. Sometimes it is about more than dollars.” Sievering says the district would be open to a shared liability with the city. Joe Shea, maintenance and operations manager for the district, reminded the board that the school was in a similar shared liability agreement with the city for the playground equipment at North Park for many years. That playground was partly on school property, and partly city property, and Shea says that arrangement worked just fine. The new school at North Park will need two playground areas - one for the lower elementary, and one for the upper. So moving the equipment from Custer would seem to make sense financially for the district. Board president Michelle Zlomke says she was actively involved with the fundraising for the Custer playground and that it was put in with the idea that it would one day be moved. “The thought process at that time was that there would be one elementary school, and we would move it to the new school,” Zlomke explained. Board member John Evans weighed in, saying he thinks it would be good for community relations to leave the playground at Custer, and Zlomke said she has not talked to one person who is in favor of moving it. Mayor Burt was also present at the school board meeting, and addressed the board stating that the city has no intention of moving the equipment from Custer should the district opt to leave it there. After a great deal of discussion, a motion was made by Ken Meyers to present the city with the opportunity to leave the playground at the Custer site for $20,000, with the district and the city sharing liability and the school maintaining the equipment. The board all agreed, and that offer will now be presented to the city council at their next meeting Tuesday, Nov. 27.