$4.2 million needed for Knox County Schools’ playgrounds; who pays for it?

Knox County Schools District debates whether they should pay for repairs to elementary school playgrounds.
Knox County Schools District debates whether they should pay for repairs to elementary school playgrounds
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 6:47 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2022 at 6:48 PM EST
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KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) - Every kid enjoys playing on a playground, but more than half of the playgrounds in the Knox County Schools District need upgrades in projects that could cost millions of dollars.

Right now, it’s up to each school’s community to pay for playground upgrades. That can take a long time and cost thousands of dollars. However, some Knox County Schools Board members are arguing that they should start making those payments.

“Well, Knox County Schools should maintain it,” said Daniel Watson, the District 3 representative for the Knox County Schools board.

A new report by the Knox County School District shows that 60% of elementary schools playgrounds in the county need improvements, mostly because they’ve deteriorated.

Watson said schools have been responsible for their own playground maintenance for decades.

“Typically, those playground campaigns take longer than a year to even raise the money,” Watson said.

Now, Watson argues the school board should step up.

“In my mind, it makes sense for us to agree to maintain them and to build them when we build new schools,” Watson said. “Instead of putting that burden back on the community.”

The burden is also bigger in poor areas.

“Reality is some communities don’t have that same level of capacity. And so, what ends up happening is that those playgrounds stay there beyond their usable life,” said Watson.

Watson said it would cost the school district about $4.2 million to fix all the playgrounds in the district, plus more than half a million in annual operating costs.

“We have to remember that Knox County Schools’ has a budget of over $550 million dollars,” Watson said.

He also points to the fund balance as an option, or community partners can contribute.

The board spoke about this for the first time at Monday night’s committee meeting, and it’s on the agenda for Wednesday night’s school board meeting too.

However, Watson said any action likely wouldn’t happen until next year’s budget. Talks for that begin in the spring.