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District 161 planning $60K in emergency playground repairs

In the face of labor and supply shortages that have complicated Flossmoor High School District 161’s need to replace several of its playgrounds, staff is aiming to complete roughly $60,000 in repairs “immediately” until the bigger picture can be tackled in the summer of 2022.

Associate Superintendent Fran LaBella presented the repair plan Monday, July 19, during a regular meeting of the district’s board of education. The plan follows an inspection that noted with “few exceptions” the district’s playgrounds are in “poor shape,” per a prior presentation.

LaBella noted in June that the district was having trouble finding materials and workers to do the jobs. Superintendent Dana Smith in June added that if the board were to move forward with playground replacement now it could cost around $1.2 million because prices are high.

The playground repair work was to start July 19 with landscaping, including a surface skim to remove weeds, mulch application and general maintenance, according to LaBella’s presentation. From there, staff is tackling the playgrounds with the biggest problems first.

“The worst condition playground is Serena Hills West,” LaBella said.

There, the district is aiming to replace a crawl tunnel for $2,341 and eight loop hand holds for $2,272. It is also planning to replace two deck squares at a total of $1,678 — what LaBella called the worst part of the park, in terms of damage.

“You can absolutely see that they are structurally questionable,” she said while showing pictures to the board.

At the Heather Hill North playground, staff is going to renew decks/steps for $3,465, as well as replace a suspension bridge that is sagging for $4,053 and a curved zip slide for $1,827. Staff also removed from use a swing set that has a cracked main support. And until the bridge is fixed it is being taken down to keep children off of it, LaBella said.

Flossmoor Hills East is due for a tree branch trimming. The district is also expected to replace a suspension bridge for $4,053 and two roller mechanisms for $806. It will also renew decks/steps for $1,607.

Serena Hills East is potentially getting $27,000 in repairs, largely attributable to a slide replacement expected to cost $14,500. Decks will cost another $6,000, while a cargo net replacement is to cost $2,000.

Flossmoor Hills West is getting a replacement slide for $1,300. Some other replacements in District 161 playgrounds have already taken place.

While the repairs were only discussed at the July 19 meeting, the board gave LaBella an unofficial nod of approval to get started with the work. LaBella said it is unlikely all of the necessary fixes will be done before students return to school on Aug. 12 — in part because of how long it is taking to get supplies, according to Scott Stachacz, director of building and grounds — but staff is working to take down or otherwise block access to any structures that pose safety concerns.

“There were only a handful of places where we felt that was the case,” LaBella said.

The district plans to bid and replace playground structures at Flossmoor Hills, Serena Hills and Heather Hill schools next summer, according to LaBella’s report. The pre-K playground at Flossmoor Hills is expected to cost roughly $359,000, to be funded with a Pre-K for All grant. It is to include a play structure, tricycle track, rubber surface and fences.

LaBella said the work will probably come in waves, again prioritizing the worst of the bunch.

“I would very much like to take care of the worst of them next year — two, possibly three,” she said.

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