Muldown construction turns to playground options

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As some classrooms at the new Muldown Elementary School prepare for their first coats of paint, the next phase of planning is shifting to the playgrounds.

The school district is currently constructing a new $26.5 million building set to open in fall of 2020.

The Whitefish School District’s Owner’s Representative, Dow Powell, first brought conceptual images of the future playground to the board last month.

Since that meeting, and the feedback received by teachers and parents concerning materials and equipment, Powell said he and others consulted with a representative from Northwest Playground Equipment, Inc., who is working on the Muldown playground.

“Since then we had the consultant from the playground manufacturing company come and visit with a group of interested and concerned folks, staff from Muldown, a couple board members and some parents,” Powell said. “A lot of that discussion was on occupancy, how many people could be using the equipment, what type of equipment is there, and do we have enough stuff for special needs, and there was.”

One of the main points of interest is the material for the fall protection surfaces, Powell said. The original idea was for a turf surface, longer and more grass-like than something like a football or soccer turf.

A turf is ideal for both fall protection and drainage, Powell said.

“The fall protection has a gravel base, then a pad, then there’s the turf. It’s permeable, it drains 30 inches an hour, so it doesn’t puddle and it drains and there’s drainage under the playground,” he said.

Powell said the idea for turf came from discussions with Muldown staff, playground supervisors and maintenance staff.

District Maintenance Director Chad Smith backed the idea, noting that alternatives like pea gravel are no longer compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, and things like wood chips or synthetic wood fiber needs to constantly be added to and are often tracked inside the school.

“We’ve wanted to do this synthetically for a long time, but there was the cost of switching over. This is the perfect opportunity to do it from the start,” Smith said.

Trustee Darcy Schellinger said the cost of a turf will likely be higher up-front than other materials, but the accessibility factor is winning her over.

“To me that was a swaying factor to figure out how to justify that cost,” she said.

Roughly $492,000 is budgeted for playground equipment for the new school.

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