The Cove School District intends to break ground immediately after the end of the school year to replace the school’s aging playground equipment.

The Cove Booster Club originally took on the project and estimated the project by making some minor improvements to the equipment, which would cost a few thousand dollars.

Cove Superintendent Earl Pettit knew that wasn’t going to be enough.

“The project had started prior to my time,” Pettit said. “The Booster Club had started fundraising already. They raised awareness for the need of the project.”

The playground equipment, which Pettit thinks was built in the 1960s, is old and in disrepair.

“(The Booster Club) couldn’t fundraise the amount of money it would take to do what needs to be done,” Pettit said.

Pettit, who recently was chosen by the school board as the district’s permanent superintendent, ventured to take it from there.

First, Pettit talked to a consultant and decided it was time to replace the entire thing. He said a typical playground set will cost upward of $300,000. The estimate for the set Cove currently plans to install is $113,000.

The existing playground equipment has become a safety hazard. Broken segments of the equipment have been removed over the years, and the fort located in the middle of the playground blocks the view for adults to see the children. At the Cove School Board meeting last week, someone in atten dance said a child had been injured while at the playground.

“The layout just isn’t great,” Pettit said. “Pieces were clearly added to the set — that’s why we need a total replacement.”

At the meeting last week, Board Member John Frisch voted against going forward with the playground project because of two other projects he felt needed to be secured before the equipment was purchased.

“We need to focus on the gym and cafeteria,” Frisch said. “I know we have a lot of funds, but this wasn’t on the school’s radar.”

The school district plans to renovate and replace the brick building at the school, which will house the gym and cafeteria, Pettit said. The current cafeteria is too small for its 300 students. That plan has a very loose estimation of $800,000 to $1.4 million.

While the capital fund has $2.2 million in its budget after the money is taken away for the playground equipment, Frisch said he doesn’t want the gym and cafeteria project to be shorted because of it.

“I’d hate to come up $150,000 short and not be able to finish that project,” Frisch told the board members. “If we have the money left over, then I would be willing to support this.”

He reiterated that he wasn’t against the project, but he doesn’t think this is the time to pursue it.

However, Board Member Jamie Dickenson said she trusts Pettit when he said the district can afford it.

“I don’t think he would spend money we don’t have,” she said.

The main argument for not delaying the playground project, though, is the safety issue.

Ultimately, the board voted four to one in favor of pursuing the project.

Pettit said the FFA group is writing a grant to get in kind support for preparing the land for the new equipment installation. He’s also looking to local businesses and organizations that are willing to offer machinery to get the job done. Pettit said he’s received a positive response from the community.

The new equipment will be chosen for a variety of ages and will include musical stations and other important development-related equipment focused on balance and swinging.

Pettit hopes to begin the project as soon as school is out.

“This project is about the community,” he said. “I want them to have a sense of ownership with this project.”