Royalton Elementary asks to provide more than mud for playground

By Mollie Rushmeyer, Correspondent

The drainage problems and heavy foot-traffic on the Royalton Elementary playground, make for a muddy mess for students. That’s why Principal Phil Gurbada proposed to the Royalton School Board Monday, an expansion of the playground by buying an adjacent property.
The drainage problems and heavy foot-traffic on the Royalton Elementary playground, make for a muddy mess for students. That’s why Principal Phil Gurbada proposed to the Royalton School Board Monday, an expansion of the playground by buying an adjacent property.

Dr. Phil Gurbada, Royalton Elementary principal, told the School Monday, about the overcrowded, muddy conditions of the elementary playground and ultimately, what he hopes will be the solution — purchasing an adjacent property in order to expand.

“They (the students) are doing the best they can out there,” Gurbada said. “But it’s just a mud pit out there, especially in the spring and many of them end up on the sidewalk at the edge of the playground.”

When Gurbada started as principal a little over 20 years ago, the property next to the playground was for sale but the Board decided against purchasing it for the $25,000 asking price at the time. Now the same, .41 acre, property is listed for $75,000 and sits directly across North Cedar Street from the school and directly south of the existing playground.

Considering the price to buy the house and land, remove the house, fill it in, plant grass, install a fence, etc., Gurbada said it may be $130,000 by the end.

“The initial investment will probably be considerable,” Gurbada said. “But it’s a one-time investment.”

Board Chair Noel Guerard said he has seen amazing reclamation projects happen where a parking lot is turned into a park. That’s why he would like to explore all options, including more information on overhauling the existing playground with black dirt and grass seed.

Gurbada explained how the school has asked two experts to assess the playground to get their opinion on whether taking the gravel out of the existing space, and replacing it with black dirt and grass seed, would be a good use of resources. The experts told Gurbada that because the space is so narrow with such heavy foot-traffic every day, the expense would not be worth it — the grass seed wouldn’t grow.

“I’d like to know who are these experts who said grass was impossible,” said Guerard.

However, Guerard also expressed a willingness to work with Gurbada and said he thought it was convenient that the property is located next to the school. He’s now waiting for a report from the principal on the total cost of the project so the Board can look it over and decide if the school should move forward with the first step, purchasing the property.

The question then becomes, where will the money come from? Gurbada said he sees this as a fiscal budget project, not a taxpayer-funded expansion.

If the project is approved, the plan will include knocking down the house and filling it in with black dirt, but also starting fresh with what Gurbada calls the “mud pit” on the old side of the playground. The gravel would be removed and replaced by black dirt and grass seed as well.

The experts explained that if the school can expand the playground, thereby spreading out the foot-traffic and working on the drainage problems in that area, the grass seed would be able to take hold.

“We’ve had many improvements inside the school,” Gurbada said. “This (the playground) is the one unfinished piece. It would be completing the improvements we started.”

Looking to enrollment, Gurbada said, if the number of students increases, they will need the room. For the existing students, who use the playground every day, including the summer, the principal said he wants to have an attractive, fun place for them to play.


Royalton School Board Briefs

Other business during Monday’s Royalton School Board meeting, included:

  • Discussion of p-card use and transactions. Michelle Hauber said there had been three fraudulent charges in the last month. The card numbers had been obtained by a third party and used without permission. The cards have since been cancelled;
  • Hearing Jason Leibold ask how the coaches are hired for the wrestling team. Athletics/Activities Director Brent Lieser said the positions are posted and advertised in the same manner as all other staff positions. Sometimes there aren’t multiple interviews because there is only one candidate;
  • Approval of hiring Dan Prehn as an assistant baseball coach, Dawn Hofstad as an assistant secretary in the elementary office, Andrew Hagman as the assistant varsity softball coach and Linzee Gerads as the junior high softball coach. Chairperson Noel Guerard asked Lieser, why have multiple assistant coaches instead of one head coach for each sport. Leiser said it costs the school less to have two co-head coaches than one head coach;
  • Accepting the resignations of Amy Krueger as head softball coach, Dawn Hofstad as a Title 1 paraprofessional, Kathy Brenny as track coach, Marcella Hilmerson as a paraprofessional;
  • Denial of a request for a general leave of absence for Vicki Burnside on a 3-3 vote. Directors Jim Block, Dale Lenz and Randy Hackett voted against the request. Both Hackett and Lenz told Royalton Elementary Principal Phil Gurbada their reasons related to the leave not fitting into the teacher’s contract;
  • Approval of the spring 2017 coaches, advisers and volunteers, on a 2-1 vote. Director Mark Petron abstained from the vote, as did Lenz, whose children are coaches. Director Ellie Holm voted against, while Block and Hackett voted for the approval. During the process, Holm also suggested to Lieser to move the hiring process of coaches up a couple of months to cut down on the “scrambling to fill positions”;
  • Approval of the new pitch tracker position, mandated by the Minnesota State High School League, with a $17 per game compensation. The purpose is to prevent injuries to young players’ shoulders by overuse;
  • Accepting donations from Royalton Fire and Rescue of $700 and the Royalton’s Sportsman’s Club of $200 for the purpose of purchasing rock climbing wall panels for the middle school/high school gym;
  • Accepting the donation of 90 books donated for the media center at a value of $1,200 from Carol Chisholm;
  • Approved selling a DX unit used at middle school/high school building to an outside party for a minimum of $5,000;
  • Hearing concerns regarding improvements to the middle school/high school roof. While Petron and others said the warranty of the roof will cover everything, and the engineers assured them there were no concerns, with “nothing to worry about,” discussion continued over the standing water on the roof as a possible future problem. The question was raised, whether over time there would be damage from the 5-6 inches of water. Confusion also arose about whether the building inspector or board members were communicating in the way that they should. Supt. Jon Ellerbusch said he’d look into it; and
  • At the end of the meeting, after Holm had requested to add an agenda item related to Minnesota Statute 13D and the allegations of an unnamed district employee, the discussion ended before it started. Ellerbusch addressed the Board, stating that what they were about to do was illegal and they needed to consult an attorney, making it clear that if any one of the directors continued it would be in direct opposition to the law.

All Board members decided to stop the proceedings, and meeting was adjourned.

The Royalton School Board will hold a regular Board meeting in the high school media center Monday, March 20, at 6 p.m.