Friday, August 13, 1999


$50 million sought for playgrounds

Old swings, jungle gyms and other
equipment are being torn down
because they're not safe

By Crystal Kua


The Department of Education plans to ask state lawmakers for more than $50 million to replace aging and unsafe playground equipment over 13 years.

The move is an apparent switch by the department from its position that playground equipment is not an essential learning tool.

Assistant Superintendent Al Suga told a Board of Education committee yesterday that he will be discussing with others in the department a "curriculum-driven" solution to the loss of playground apparatus at Hawaii's public schools.

The funding plans for playground equipment were given to board members in two forms.

The department asked the committee to approve a legislative request for an additional $14.5 million for the capital improvement program for major construction projects for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Part of that amount includes a new request for $3 million to replace playground equipment that has been or will be dismantled.

The department also presented its $1.5 billion major construction plan for a 10-year year period beginning in 2003. The plan includes playground equipment replacement at a cost of $50 million, or $5 million for each year of the plan.

During the past school year, yellow tape began going up, and antiquated swings, merry-go-rounds and jungle gyms began coming down because of new federal guidelines covering the safety of such equipment.

But the department has no money appropriated to replace the equipment, and that prompted an outcry from parents, school-level officials and community organizations.


Most school playground equipment previously had not been funded by the Department of Education; parent-teacher associations and other groups raised money for them.

Planner Alan Honma said the cost goes beyond just buying the equipment: New playgrounds must be accessible to disabled students and include padding on the ground to cushion falls.

The Legislature this past session approved a $111 million capital improvement budget for the department for the current fiscal year and $57.5 million for the next fiscal year.

Besides the $3 million for playground equipment, the $14.5 million supplemental request for next year includes:

Bullet $3 million for telecommunications upgrades.

Bullet $2 million for electrical power improvements.

Bullet $1.8 million to design a second Mililani Mauka elementary school.

Bullet $3.5 million in construction funds to build an administration/library building and renovate classroom support facilities at Kealakehe Intermediate.

Bullet $1.1 million in design money for classroom or administration buildings at Waipahu High, Waianae High, Leilehua High, Kalama Intermediate and Kealakehe Elementary.

Most of the supplemental budget requests are for items that lawmakers didn't approve this past session.

The design and construction funds are intended to help with projected enrollment increases.

Enrollment at the original Mililani Mauka Elementary is projected to be 1,284 students, far surpassing its capacity of 979. Support Services Chairman Keith Sakata said the school should look into less costly ways of dealing with increasing school enrollment, such as multiple scheduling tracks.

Board members wondered aloud whether capital improvement funds can legally be used for playground equipment if the department doesn't deem the equipment to be a necessary part of a student's education.

Suga said discussions could begin within days that may change that position. Playground equipment could be placed on a recommended list of equipment acceptable for educational purposes and therefore qualifying it for capital improvement funding.

The supplemental request for playground equipment is less than half of what the department says it will need to replace old, unsafe equipment.

The committee approved the request. The request now moves on to the full board, which is scheduled to take it up Thursday.

The department's 10-year construction plan is a look at "how we meet the needs of schools down the road," Honma said.

The $1.5 billion plan includes $300 million for 15 new elementary schools, $80 million for two new middle schools, $160 million for two new high schools and $120 million each for replacement of wooden buildings and 400 new permanent classrooms.

Although the 10-year plan was not up for approval, it is expected to be discussed at the next board meeting.

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