Playground in Lockwood closed down for safety concerns

2012-08-24T17:00:00Z 2014-08-25T09:49:47Z Playground in Lockwood closed down for safety concernsBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

What started with roar ended with a whimper.

Lions Lair, the celebrated Lockwood community playground, built by a crew of hundreds of volunteers and paid for through numerous community donations nearly 20 years ago, is now closed to the public.

A fence went up Friday morning, surrounding the perimeter of the sprawling, wooden-structure playground with chain link. Yellow caution tape roped off the swing set.

“We obviously want to keep it,” said Tobin Novasio, Lockwood Public School’s new superintendent. “But we can’t in good conscience let kids play on it.”

The playground, built in 1994 adjacent to Lockwood School, was championed and then built through the efforts of the local PTA. When it was done, the PTA handed it over to the school.

Over the summer, the district’s insurance company, Western States, toured the playground and told the district it either needed serious updates or it had to be closed.

With money for schools scant these days, the Lockwood board voted last week to close the playground and look at its options.

Efforts to help the district pay for maintenance of the playground have been ongoing. The structure was originally built for about $75,000 but the community had raised close to $100,000 by the time it was all done.

The money left over was used to help maintain the structure in those early days, said Barbara Frank, school counselor and liaison to the PTA.

After that, the PTA tried to raise money for occasional maintenance. But, the older the structure got, the more costly the repairs became.

Any work the school does on the structure now has to bring the play equipment up to current code, which is more stringent now than it was 20 years ago, said Rob Guzman, the district’s facilities director.

It makes maintaining the playground simply too costly, he said.

The PTA has continued to raise money for maintenance, but it’s been kind of hard, Frank said.

“They’ve really tried, but it’s just been overwhelming,” said Sue Robertson, a teacher at the school.

Currently, the PTA has roughly $35,000 dedicated to the playground, which won’t cover much. Now that it’s closed, the community may feel more pressure to try and save it, Frank said.

“I think the fundraising will be easier for them now,” she said.

The Lockwood board meets Sept. 11 to discuss the future of the playground. School leaders are hopeful the community will attend to voice their opinions.

Whatever happens to Lions Lair, the bricks that lead up to the play structure will be saved. When donations were first collected in 1994, community members bought bricks with their donated money, which were then engraved with their names and placed on the playground.

“It was amazing,” Robertson said.

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