As summer approaches, so does the realization that children on break from school will be gathering en masse at certain areas of town for recreation. One very popular place in the summer is the city pool in Preston. A playground is located nearby and children are often playing on it while taking a break from the pool.

However, problems have arisen regarding the set and specific pieces, requiring either improvements or complete replacement. Because of the age and safety issues with the old playground, the Preston Park Board opted to install a completely new set.

Preston Public Works director Jim Bakken, who is heavily involved in the project, described the problems with the slide and teeter-totter.

"The slide is an old fiberglass slide with some spots of broken fiberglass and the teeter-totter does not fit in any standards anymore. Both are dangerous and the rest of the playground is also in rough shape," he stated.

For the last couple of years, the condition of that playground has been a concern for the city's inspector and has been brought to the park board's attention. Last fall, the city began the process to tear out the old equipment and choose a new playground, meeting the desires of the city.

Over the last few years, the city has been working to make the playgrounds at parks around the city a better and safer place for children to play. The swimming pool playground will be the last one to be upgraded.

Midwest Playscapes, Inc., based in Chaska, Minn., will be providing the new set for the city. Preston has already utilized this company with all the other playground improvements over the last few years. The new playground will not only fit within the standards for playgrounds today, but it will also comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), giving access to those who are not able to go climbing on other types of playgrounds. In addition, any grandparents who desire can be close at hand to their grandchildren while they play, even if they use a wheelchair or walker.

The base of the set will be divided into two separate material areas. In certain areas, concrete will be poured around the structure. Once the concrete has dried, rubber padding will be placed on top to ensure safety and easy access for any disabled child or adult. Specially-engineered fiber wood chips will be spread over the remaining area not covered by rubber mats.

"On this area anything from wheelchairs to walkers can easily run over the pads," stated Preston City and Utility secretary MariLyn Bakke, who has also been involved with the project since the beginning.

The process for choosing the new playground is almost finished. "The only thing left to do before placing the order is choosing the colors," Bakken informed.

The hope was to order the playground set in the next few days to keep up with their goal's time frame. Delivery of the set is anticipated to take five weeks, slating the arrival and installation to begin in May.

During installation, an employee from Midwest Playscapes will oversee erection of the playground itself. This part of the project will only take one day to be completed. However, preparing the concrete and bedding of the area will take a little longer. The structure is slated to be fully operational by June 1, when the swimming pool opens.

The total cost of the project is estimated to be roughly $45,000. The bulk of the cost has already been gathered through donations and fundraisers such as the Fire Fighter's Gambling Fund and the Preston Community Foundation. Currently, there are applications for grants from the Walmart Foundation's Local Facility Giving Program and an ADA grant being reviewed. However, it is not guaranteed that Preston will receive these grants.

At this point in time, the fund falls around $11,000 short of the goal, but the park board has offered to provide the balance left over. However, there are still opportunities for donations. In the next few weeks there will be a display up at the bank with a mock up of what the playground will look like and the colors that have been chosen.

"With this display, those who donated will be able to see what a wonderful help they have been. Hopefully it will encourage others to donate as well. Even if it is only one or two dollars, every little bit helps," Bakke added.

The Preston Area Chamber of Commerce is also on board with raising funds and will advertise for donations. If possible, Bakken would like to get most of the money left over raised in the next few months, though if they are awarded the grants, these will benefit the fund greatly.