EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
The City of Marinette is looking to upgrade playground equipment at its parks, including Higley Park. 
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

The City of Marinette is looking to upgrade playground equipment at its parks, including Higley Park. 

MARINETTE — When the burning blister of broiling bubbles bursts, billowing blobs of searing lava that flood across the field of Higley Park and scorch the sneaker soles and tiny toes of any child who fails to clamber high enough over ground level to avoid the blazing burst, the exhilaration entices fun.

However, to reach those heights of safety during a game of “Hot Lava” at local city park playgrounds, one first requires an ample array of elaborate, safe and lofty playground equipment.

And several of the park playgrounds in the City of Marinette require upgrades and repairs.  

The Marinette Parks & Recreation Department addressed that issue during its monthly meeting, focusing discussion on the first and biggest hurdle the city faces in its efforts to make those necessary fixes. It arises from a limited budget.

Last summer, aging playground equipment in all seven of Marinette’s city park playgrounds underwent a comprehensive audit to evaluate necessary repairs, upgrades, potential for new equipment and the surety that all current equipment meets mandated playground regulations. Using that audit, City of Marinette Parks and Recreation Director Gavin Scray compiled a list of outdated equipment that needed replacement and other items in need of repair. 

“Since then we determined that there is need to not only start a repair program but that there was possibly the need to start a replacement program for our playground system,” Scray said.  “There are certain things that need to be addressed in order to be compliant. But any immediate dangers have been removed so (existing playground equipment) is safe.”

Presently, an earmarked allotment of just $75,000 exists for new equipment and repairs of current equipment, which falls far short for the replacement cost of just the Higley Park equipment, according to proposed conceptual designs that Scray presented to the committee Tuesday. Marinette City Council approved allocation of those funds last year in the city’s capital outlay. The tentative budget for Higley playground repairs and replacement projected by the Parks Department currently stands at no higher than $150,000, but finding the additional funds introduces a lot of uncertainty as to the timing of upgrades.  

The conceptual designs presented by Scray at Tuesday’s meeting each came with a different price tag. 

According to the proposals, replacement of Higley playground equipment will likely climb upwards of $130,000 depending on various options. 

Lee Recreation, LLC, out of Cambridge, provided Scray with both proposed designs, each one an alternate version on the same concept that included a variety of slides, decks, bridges and other climbing equipment—everything a good game of Hot Lava requires.

Lee Recreation serves as a dealer of playground equipment manufactured in Wisconsin. 

However, the low-end cost came to $129,337, while the high-end price reached $137,856. 

Despite only $75,000 in allotted funds, the Parks and Recreation Committee hopes to take it a step at a time.

City Council President and committee chairperson Dorothy Kowalski pointed out from prior discussions with Finance Committee members, the line of thinking centers on apportioning $75,000 now, and then working to find ways to finance the remaining $75,000 in the next year’s capital outlay budget. 

“It’s a process,” said Alderman and committee member Rick Polzin. “I’m not sure that (new equipment) will get done this year but at least it will put those funds in position. We have done our homework and we have a plan.”

The Parks Department committee agreed last year to address the replacement of existing playground equipment at Higley Park before any other parks, as they feel it represents the most “heavily used” playground 

Last year, Scray toured the parks in need of upgrades with City Council members, informing them firsthand about the necessary scope of maintenance work or—in some cases—full equipment replacement, that will eventually be required. The parks under scrutiny include Red Arrow, Carney, Daggett Street, Higley, City and Duer Gym parks as well as the carousel equipment on Stephenson Island. 

Additionally, Kowalski and Polzin both introduced the desired option that some of the equipment should fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant standards, if possible. Currently, neither of Scray’s proposals included ADA equipment. One such example of a piece of ADA playground equipment is a wheelchair swing, which accommodates the entire wheelchair.

“I would like to see the option of a wheelchair swing and how it would impact cost,” Polzin said. “I think we have an obligation to check that out and see if there is something that can be added in that context.”

Scray pointed that while ADA equipment is feasible, and important, it also represents an added surface area to the entire structure. A special and costly rubberized surface (aka Poured-in-Place Surfacing) encompasses the area of the proposed playgrounds and represents a significant percentage of the entire purchase and installation of each model. For that reason, any further equipment not already included in Scray’s proposals adds additional square footage and a substantial cost to the tune of $50,000, according to Scray.

Crunching the numbers, the costs of the rubberized surface is about 30% of the total cost of new equipment, including installation. 

“I don’t think we can afford another $50,000 but we should just see what is out there (in the way of ADA-compliant equipment),” Kowalski said.

Moving ahead, the Parks & Recreation Committee plans to convey some of the ideas and proposals to the Marinette Finance Committee. Through those discussions they hope to gain a better determination for the future financing of the remaining cost of new playground equipment.

As it stands now, it appears unlikely that Higley Park will see new playground equipment this year. 

“I don’t think our intention was to ever have it (installed) in 2020,” Kowalski said.  

However, for one seeking a good game of Hot Lava, with a little imagination, the existing equipment at Higley Park will take the courageous person/child to safe and fun heights ... and Hot Lava is also a video game.