Many volunteers with Fairview’s Bowie Playground Build Committee felt like it was Christmas in May when City Manager Scott Collins announced he had found a way to finance most of the Treehouse Playground project from a bond issue. The good news came at the May 20 City Commission meeting.
For several months, the Bowie Playground Build Committee had been raising funds to build a new, large and inclusive playground in Bowie Nature Park to replace a beloved, community-built Treehouse Playground that was removed in July 2019 after safety issues arose with the structure.
At first, Collins mentioned the city funding $500,000. However, at the June 3 City Commission meeting, a resolution pledging to contribute $600,000 to the construction of the Treehouse Playground in Bowie Nature Park was passed unanimously.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
First, city finances improved along with the city bond rating.
Back in 2014-2015, the City was in a financial crisis with spending exceeding revenue by $500,000 annually, depleting all reserve accounts and a few restricted funds. Mandated budget cuts across the board were coupled with an ordinance to not only establish a city reserve fund but also a timeline to fully fund the reserve account.
These actions allowed the city’s financial recovery to begin. By April 2017, then Fairview Mayor Patti Carroll announced the city reserve fund was fully funded at $720,000. The depleted restricted funds were also fully restored.
City Manager Scott Collins completed a financial overhaul of the budget while continuing cutbacks such as staffing in the parks and public works departments. The actions of prior boards, the city manager, city staff and current board have allowed city reserves to grow. In turn, the city’s bond rating improved from an A rating in 2014 to a AA in 2019.
Around the same time, interest in building a new playground in Bowie Park increased. The Playground Build Committee formed and realized it would take years to raise the necessary funds. Collins advised, if the city’s finances continued to improve, the city might be able to issue a bond to help pay for a new playground.
Fast forward to May 2021, the City’s bond rating improved allowing city leaders to consider issuing a bond for much-needed infrastructure projects such as road widening, road repairs and a storm water management system. Collins made plans to apply for a bond in September 2021.However, Treehouse Playground funding was still not feasible.
When the Federal Government announced plans to provide $2.4 million in Covid Relief Funds to the City of Fairview, the exact use of the funds was not clearly stated. Once the city learned the funds were intended for infrastructure projects, Collins suggested an alternative use for the bond —funding the Treehouse Playground.
The city will use the federal funds to complete the capital projects originally intended to be funded by the bond. The $600,000 from a bond issuance will help build a playground, and the city will have to pay back that money with a set number of interest payments over a predetermined period of time.
And while the $600,000 is a huge help, there is still additional funding needed.
The playground design suggested by residents, put out for bid, and approved by the city commission will be constructed for approximately $700,000 by Great Southern Recreation, the playground vendor chosen by the Playground Build Committee. However, that price does not include fencing, sidewalks, a donor wall, and any unforeseen site work required. It also does not include inflation.
The Playground Build Committee’s goal is to raise $200,000 to go with the city’s $600,000. Currently, a little over $100,000 has been raised or pledged, and so, the fundraising continues.
Collins anticipates money from the bond to be in the City’s account in early in 2022. He set a fundraising deadline for the end of December. Whatever money is in the playground fund at that time will be combined with the $600,000 to determine the actual playground budget and design features available with that budget.
Optimistic that the project will move quickly, Collins advised, “We’ll break ground next spring, and have a grand opening on Saturday, July 2nd, 2022.”
To learn more about the project and how you can support the fundraising efforts, visit www.bowieplaygroundbuild.org.