Tiger Den Playground may reopen

By KEVIN MCKEE

kmckee@lockhaven.com

MILL HALL – The Tiger Den playground, located near Dickey Elementary School, may be once again opening to the public, following further discussions. Thursday night’s monthly meeting of the Keystone Central School Board opened with a brief speech from Joel Long, a former Clinton County Commissioner and Lock Haven City Councilman who was one of the chief orchestrators of the Tiger Den playground.

“I came here to have a discussion about the Tiger Den playground,” he began, adding that “some people have been hearing some different things, so I wanted to clarify things and clear up any misinformation.”

Long then provided some background on the project, stating that it “was a $100,000 project, and $90,000 of that was donated by the public: by individuals, clubs, businesses, and so forth. Over 1200 people volunteered to help build it in five days.”

According to Long, the Tiger Den “was to be sold to the public to be used outside of school use, although it would be closed over the winter or if we were doing maintenance.”

At the time, “the Tiger Den Committee worked with the school board of the time to lock it, manage repair work, and so on,” Long said, “but over time, some of those things broke down. We would go to lock the gate – but there would be no lock there because someone took it back to the school.”

Long also cited problems with the garbage, saying, “the garbage wasn’t being emptied, which led to trash being left wherever it fell.”

As a result, Long said, “the district at the time chose to lock the gate and not let anyone outside of the school use it.”

Aside from providing the history, Long also came with another purpose: “People here weren’t part of when it was built, nor when it was closed,” he said.

“The Tiger Den was built by the community for both the school — and — the community,” he continued, asking board members to “right the wrong.”

Dr. Alan Lonoconus, the district’s interim superintendent, responded later with some thoughts of his own on the subject.

“In the short time that I’ve been back from the summer,” he began, “I dived into the history of the Tiger Den playground.”

Dr. Lonoconus continued, “my suggestion and recommendation to the board is to maintain it, but be able to work out a scenario to where we could open it in the morning and close it at dusk.”

There are problems with that, though, he said, such as the district’s lack of a 2nd shift supervisor, as well as the district’s own inability to have the playground be open on the weekends due to staffing.

“I want to talk to the city and see what they, and the community, can do,” Dr. Lonoconus said.

“I understand it was tried in the past and there were some problems, and that would need to be discussed. Summer availability is also a potential issue. We would need cooperation from outside to make this work,” he concluded.

Ultimately, Dr. Lonoconus said, “further discussions are needed, but we would like to work towards some type of solution.”

One of the school board members, Bo Miller, also spoke on the matter, saying that “while I can’t speak for the entire board, I would very much appreciate if you would work towards an end resolution here. The community and the Tiger Den Committee have had all kinds of interesting solutions to that playground. Everyone would be on board with not seeing that type of event happen again.”

One of the other major subjects of the evening was only touched on: potential changes to the district’s SMILES program. The SMILES program allows retirees from the district to volunteer at the district for 500 hours, in exchange for waivers on their property taxes.

Dr. Lonoconus noted that “upon review, some of our SMILES volunteers were above the income level for that program.” However, as a result of choosing to adhere strictly to those guidelines, “our numbers have dropped considerably,” he said.

Dr. Lonoconus reported that last year, the district had 73 SMILES volunteers (according to JoEllen Chappelle, the board secretary, the district had 71), “but right now we have less than 10 people.”

“That represents a big hit to us and to our students,” he said.

Dr. Lonoconus is recommending the board should “reconfigure the guidelines,” citing the district’s reductions to staff, wherein “volunteers could really help us.”

“The SMILES program costs the district around $30,000 a year, but generates 500 hours per volunteer,” he added.

Board member Roger Elling brought up some concerns which had been raised to him, such as the need for volunteers to acquire clearances out of pocket, and asked that the matter be tabled for the evening, to allow for more research and discussion in advance of the board’s Sept. 6 meeting.

Ultimately, Dr. Lonoconus said, “it is up to the board if they want to expand the ability for people to participate.”

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