Friday 13th October 2017 -By Jim Mimiaga 

Original builder, leathers and associates, to conduct assessment.

To determine whether the recently closed playground at Joe Rowell Park can be saved, the Dolores Town board voted on Tuesday to have its original builders conduct an assessment in the coming weeks.

Leathers and Associates, of Ithaca, New York, built the Ron Kotarski Memorial Playground in 2001 with the help of hundreds of volunteers. A $100,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado helped pay for the $160,000 project.

Several people in the audience spoke in favor of having Leathers conduct the inspection, and the town agreed.

“They know the playground better than anyone,” said town trustee Val Truelsen.

On Sept. 11, the town board voted to close the playground, citing safety concerns from inspections by town maintenance staff. A security fence was installed around the structure.

The town is concerned that wooden posts supporting the structure have deteriorated, and that other wooden features have safety issues such as splinters and splitting.

The town is determining whether it makes sense to repair the playground or tear it down and replace it. They need approval from Great Outdoors Colorado to remove the structure, and that agency will be reviewing the results of the upcoming assessment.

Also the board voted to form a parks committee to advise the board on issues such as the playground and other recreation topics. The committee will be made up of two board members, and three community members, two of which have to be residents of the town.

Those wanting serving on the parks committee should submit a letter of interest stating why they want to join to the town by the close of business on Oct. 23. The board will review the applicants that evening at their 6:30 p.m. meeting.

The playground closure caused an outcry in the community, and the group Save the Playground was formed. Organizers reported they have already raised $2,400 toward playground needs and have 40 volunteers so far. The money raised and a volunteer effort to help with the playground will be managed through the local nonprofit Greater Dolores Action.

Several citizens urged the board to be more transparent about town business, and felt there needed to be more advanced notice and community discussion before the popular playground was closed.

“Having the meeting agendas and minutes posted on the website would be a helpful way to get information out,” said resident Tiffany Nichols.

Not everyone can make it to the meetings, said another, and having the information available on the website keeps the community involved.

“It is also helpful for residents who live here part-time to check in on town business on the website when they are away,” she said.

Resident Jen Stark and others expressed concern about a security camera that was mounted on the playground, saying that it breeds “mistrust and damages the ongoing community process” to save the playground. Taking it down would show “good faith,” Stark said.

The camera was installed due to vandalism that has recently occurred at the playground, according to town staff.

Mayor Santiago Lopez said the transparency issue and suggestion to post agendas and minutes on the town website will be discussed with town staff.

He added that there will be an election in April in which four board seats, and the mayor position, will be up for election. Candidate packets will be available in January.

“Come and serve on the board and see what it is like from this side,” he said. “We’re making a decision on whether to repair or replace playground, and the parks committee can help us in making that decision.”

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