MPS Town Hall

Last Thursday, Nov 2nd, Minneapolis Public Schools hosted the much-anticipated Listening Session about the Cooper Playground. The meeting took place in the gym of Howe Elementary, and was run by MPS’s Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox and School Board Commissioner for our area Lori Norvelle. Assistant Superintedent Ryan Strack from MPS was also in attendance, as well as Becky Alper (MPRB), Andrew Johnson (City Council), and Samantha Sencer-Mura (State House).

Not including those in the Media Center graciously volunteering to play with kids, the meeting was attended by between 75-85 residents. Of that, we had neighbors with young families and others that had already raised their kids with the Cooper playground, or were now bringing their grandchildren there. And still others only take joy of the presence of children playing nearby and strong community connections. A handful of long-time residents talked about their experience fundraising, designing, and physically building the existing playground back in 1996 (here is a photo of the 1996 schematics for the playground).

The crowd of ~75 people at the MPS Listening Session at Howe

Norvelle and Cox opened the meeting with a brief summary of why we were there: the Cooper playground is slated for demolition due to safety and liability concerns, and that due to community interest the demo date is delayed to some undetermined date in the Spring to give the neighborhood a chance to pursue other options. The meeting was an opportunity to communicate directly and openly with MPS leadership, gain information, and understand the opportunities going forward.

Some large concerns of MPS are:

  • the playground was identified as unsafe due to not only age and condition, but that it also does not meet the most current safety and accessibility standards of today.
  • because Cooper Elementary itself is closed, the playground cannot be funded by capital improvement funds that are typically available to open schools. In other words, the budget for Cooper playground is $0. Cox estimated the cost of removal to be $1000.
  • Any fundraising for equipment improvements needs to consider ongoing costs such as insurance.

When comments opened to the floor there was an opportunity to express some of the frustration of residents in the area. This included concerns that not all options have been explored, that there hadn’t been any notice of the tear out, and that an empty unused lot would attract crime.

Beyond the frustration, there were a lot of comments on what kind of opportunities might now be available. Pump bike track, nature playground, bike skills course, or just new playground equipment were offered as possible uses for the site. And besides the playground area there were some comments about how to better utilize the fields on the property, such as better soccer goals and nets.

The main concerns of MPS would need to be addressed if anything is to happen with the playground, though. Discussion of future improvements and what those look like are important, but at the same time the framework of how that comes together needs to be decided. MPS offered that they could lease the land to another organization, with the included liability and maintenance costs, for a nominal annual fee. This would relieve them of the costs and assets that don’t meet their standards. The new organization could be an existing neighborhood organization, or larger non-profit, MPRB, or even something created and run by Cooper residents/businesses.

Another possibility is to address the larger issue at hand– the deprecation of MPS properties across the city now and in the near future. Some playgrounds have already been removed (such as at Tuttle Elementary in SE Como, and the Longfellow Alternative school), and others are sitting behind schools that are also closed. MPS is headed towards a major restructuring in the coming years in order to address budget woes– are there more properties headed towards closure? As Commissioner Alper has noted, Cooper may just be one of the first playgrounds in a long list that are endangered over the coming years. Perhaps the Cooper neighborhood can be the vanguard in efforts to preserve community schoolyards for the benefit of the entire city. Any sponsorship/support from city- and statewide offices, through bonding bills or otherwise, would be predicated on the defense of these schoolyards across the city.

The meeting was informative, and maybe more importantly showed what a strong community looks like. It was hugely motivating to see people come together and speak passionately about what the playground, and “play” generally, means to them. Thank you to everyone who came out, to those that had the courage to speak, and everyone that couldn’t make it but have talked with their neighbors about it in the last few weeks. If you would like to be involved in this continuing conversation, please reach out via

Next Steps

Right now there seems to be a small group of interested residents working to organize a committee. Another forum of just residents will likely be hosted by Longfellow Community Council, which all are encouraged to attend once dates/times/location are locked in. Other activites include reaching out to similar neighborhood groups such as in SE Como, collecting hard data on costs, safety standards, etc, and communicating with local media. Watch here and on the Save Minneapolis Playgrounds facebook group (link below) for updates.

A couple of notes:

  • The Resources page has been added/updated.
  • The Get Involved page has some more contacts, as well as information about MPRB and MPS Board meetings and how to participate.
  • MPRB had a recent resignation from the board, and the post is open to any applicants (rather than the typical election) to fill out the term. Interested residents can find the application here. Candidates have to receive a majority vote of approval from the Board. Applications are due by Noon Nov 9th.