An opportunity for Cooper

A week ago some parents in the Cooper neighborhood got wind that Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) had a quick plan to remove the playground structures behind the long-disused Cooper Elementary school on 33rd Street and 45th Ave. The timeline given was “in the coming weeks”, accelerated due to safety concerns about the old equipment.

The playground dates back to the late 90’s, constructed just a few years before the school itself closed for good in 2005. Since then, the playground has not received any updates, and instead relied on a sort of ‘maintenance at lowest possible cost’ plan. Mulch and sand has been occasionally replenished, and damaged equipment removed and boarded up, rather than replaced.

The impending removal of the playground stems from a review in the Spring, and another more recent inspection this fall. The report is available here.

The inspection report reveals a few things that a casual observer may not notice, such as the worn anchors for the suspended bridge. Other items have been obvious for awhile, such as the worn (and missing) swings, or the bent handle at the entry stairs for the structure. And still others are trivial to remedy, such as the need for mulch, or easy to dismiss. Finally, the report summarizes these physical issues and touches on another: the playground’s design does not meet what is considered best play practices in the 2020s.

Equipment is 26 years old and showing signs of aging. Paint and protective step/platform coating is deteriorating. The metal platforms are beginning to rust and structurally are becoming safety hazards. The hanging walkway bridge is deteriorated and should be removed. The sand around the swings does not meet industry standard for fall protection. Playground borders are deteriorated. Based on age and condition, playground equipment should be taken out of service.

From this report, the decision was made to remove the entire structure(s) “as soon as possible”. Due to the incredibly tight budget constraints of MPS, there is no plan to replace the playground with new equipment, particularly as the school itself will remain closed. Which is fair– MPS isn’t in the business of maintaining parks for the benefit of non-school purposes.

As it stands today, the demolition is postponed until some undetermined date, with the expressed intent to host a community discussion in the coming weeks. There is no clear answer yet as to what the options will be, if any, but some proposals have been:

  • maintain the current equipment via MPS, possibly in collaboration with individuals, addressing the highest priority items immediately,
  • transfer ownership of the property (the fields and playground) to the Minneapolis Parks & Rec Board (MPRB), likely resulting in the removal of the playground but with better prospects for the future of the park as a whole,
  • seeking private funding for a new playground, retaining MPS ownership or with MPRB.

There are likely a few permutations of each of these options that could be considered as well, and nothing is guaranteed. If you have concerns about the fate of the playground, and of other MPS playgrounds around the city, let us know with an email, and keep checking PlayMPLS for important dates and updates.