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🌳 New hope for saving Cooper Playground

Neighbors are hustling to document community support ahead of a major grant application.

Longfellow Whatever
3 min read
🌳 New hope for saving Cooper Playground
The closed-ish playground at Cooper School (3239 44th Ave)
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The group of neighbors hoping to keep the Cooper School playground from disappearing are hurrying to collect survey responses about community support for the playground by Wednesday, in time to submit a major grant application to re-build the playground.

The Hennepin County grant could provide up to $100,000 for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to re-build the playground that it has deemed an unsafe liability and says it does not have the budget to fix. Community support is a major criteria for the grant award, and MPS is working directly with the Save Cooper Playground group to shape the application and document that support.

Background

The Cooper School served as the neighborhood's elementary school from 1923 until it closed in 2005 during a period of declining enrollment and school consolidation. The school board has hung on to the building and as recently as 2014 indicated that the school could re-open within a few years, but that never came to pass. It has never listed the property for sale, though that has plenty of precedent: MPS currently has three vacant schoolhouses on the market and has sold three different Longfellow schools for redevelopment in decades past (read all about it in last week's newsletter!).

The current playground dates back to 1997 with design, fundraising, and construction help from neighbors and parents of the then-operating school. The playground has continued to function as the de facto park for surrounding residents in the 20 years since the school closed, but an MPS inspection last summer found multiple issues with the current structure.

Without a budget for updating facilities at vacant schools, and noting that it was too much liability to keep in its current form, in October the school district quietly announced plans to demolish the playground. After a community meeting hosted by MPS brought out more than 100 people concerned about the plan, a group of neighbors formed under the banner of Save Cooper Playground and in November hosted its own meeting to chart a way forward.

Logo for the Save Cooper Playground group, sometimes also known as Save Cooper Park, Save Minneapolis Playgrounds, or PlayMPLS

Hearing those concerns, MPS agreed to delay the decision until the spring. But spring has sprung, and within the past month new signs have appeared telling visitors that the playground is closed and to use at their own risk, stoking concerns that the removal may be proceeding.

A way forward emerges

The group doesn't have an official organization but has about a dozen active members across multiple committees: General governing, lobbying officials, and investigating playground equipment options. Other neighbors weigh in on the group's Facebook page.

Group member John Jones' two-year-old daughter, a park regular, reviews a playground catalog as part of John's work on the group's "Structures" committee

For all the ideas kicked around — fixing up, building new, transferring ownership and liability to the park board or neighborhood group — the same issue has stood in the way: The potentially six-figure price tag to get the playground in working order.

Things took a promising turn last week when MPS approached the Save Cooper Playground group with an offer to apply for money through Hennepin County's Youth Activities program. Funded by part of the sales tax increase that paid for Target Field, it offers up to $100,000 for building sports and play facilities, which could cover most of a modest re-build.

Because the grant prioritizes partnerships between local government bodies like the school board and community groups, MPS is looking for Save Cooper Playground's help preparing the application and quantifying the community's enthusiasm for the park. The group, whose ranks include multiple professional grant writers, has been hustling to collect responses to include in the application. The data could also be used in future funding requests.

Grant recipients will be announced in May or June, which will dictate the next steps for preserving or re-building the playground.

Cooper School Playground (3239 44th Ave)
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