Parents and School Board Officials Take Steps to Replace Rubber Mulch

Duluth Schools Set to Replace Rubber Mulch with Wood Chips, Costing Nearly $630,000

DULUTH, Minn. – On Tuesday, members of the Duluth School board motioned to remove all rubber mulch chips on school playgrounds, and replace the potentially harmful material with wood.

Kristen Klos-Maki is proud to have her daughter attend Lowell Elementary after attending a nature-based preschool.

“When I was starting to decide where I wanted to have her go to kindergarten, I started looking at all the different options in Duluth,” said Klos-Maki.

With the new Spanish immersion program making a debut at Lowell, she was sold, but not without concern.

“When we saw that there was the rubber mulch on the playground, that’s when we formed the Nature Committee at Lowell and made the new nature playscape that is just adjacent to the other side of the playground,” said Klos-Maki.

The natural play area is a place where students can use imagination. With logs, free space, and sticks, learning is created in a clean and safe environment.

“It wasn’t a matter of, do we need a study to confirm it, it’s just, we don’t need out kids to keep playing on it until we have definitive proof, we just need to get them off of it now until there’s a health concern,” said Klos-Maki.

Dave Spooner with Duluth Public Schools, says after Tuesday’s vote by the Duluth School Board, engineered wood fiber chips will be installed at ten locations. It’s a project with a price tag of nearly $630,000.

“We have our consultant on board who is currently preparing construction documents,” said Spooner, Manager of Facilities for Duluth Public Schools.

“Once those documents are complete we will solicit bids and those bids will contain alternates for the School Board to determine how they want to proceed with implementation of this project,” said Spooner.

Three options are now swinging in front of the board. Funding for the project would come from the 2018 fiscal year budget.

“The first option is to do every site by August 31, 2017,  so that all playgrounds are done by the time school starts for the FY 18-18 school year,” said Spooner.

A second option is to complete all elementary playgrounds, while giving the district the option to hold off on middle school sites for two or three years.

“The third option would be to juggle the district into three equitable portions and then complete that work over a period of three years,” said Spooner.

A three year period would break up the burden on the district’s general fund.

“It’s not just us in Duluth as parents questioning it, this is a state thing,” said Klos-Maki.

For now, the issue remains in the hands of the School Board, but also in the hearts of parents protecting their children.

“We do not want this to come out of our classrooms, with a teacher being cut or a program being cut at any of the levels,” said Klos-Maki.

Kristen and a group of involved community members are searching for fundraising opportunities and contacting companies that could give bids.

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