I won’t wait for three years! Part 1

In Chinese the character for “Crisis” is the combination of the symbols for “danger” & “opportunity.”

This was my third lousy night’s sleep in a row. Last night I was fretting about rubber tire mulch – and much else. It kept me awake with dark thoughts till past 3 AM. This could make a person crotchety or lead to premature dementia. Of course, being on the Duluth School Board my dementia is probably taken for granted by the people who elected me. Does that sound like any other election you’ve heard of?

The best bid for mulch replacement the School Board will be considering is a poison pill on two counts. First, its at least twice what we had anticipated at $1.2 million dollars. Second, and far worse, no contractors bid on fixing all the playgrounds in a single year. The best we got was a three year deal. I suspect that if we had started letting bids three or four months earlier those bids would have come in lower and with options to fix everything in a single year. I may be wrong but I’ll never know.

What I do know is that because I was not privy to info that had been circulating more broadly for a couple days I gave a parent a ridiculously optimistic assessment of a happy outcome. Some board members appear to have known about the bid before hand. Had I known I would have had a very different conversation with that parent who will no doubt remember my cluelessness come time to vote in November.

This is not all that I fretted about last night. I also learned – again belatedly – that the deal for the sale of Nettleton fell through. We may have lost a bird in the hand on that sale that was willing and eager to pay us more than the consortium that just flew the coup. I also learned that the bids for the fix-up of Rockridge are half a million higher than we estimated.

I have already survived three or four crises as a Board member. I don’t want or need another. I would like to consider the idea that was first floated over a year ago by parents. Let the parents remove the rubber tire mulch and replace it with wood chips. I would gladly make $250,000 of District money available to them if they can 1. find and schedule the volunteers, 2. find the trucks, 3. locate environmentally safe places to haul the rubber to, 4. find wood chips, 5. and get every playground fixed over the summer. Heck, I’d volunteer to push a wheel barrow all summer to get the job done. It would be a much more fun way to campaign for the school board than going door-to-door and it would actually accomplish something useful.

There would be concerns and objections, among them, District insurance covering volunteers, Not having some bonded contractor for much or most of the work, Not re-engineering the underlying surface of the playgrounds to insure good drainage and adequate depth of woodchip mulch for tumbles off of jungle gyms. If I was unexpectedly given an option for a $2 million one-year fix today I’d probably take it – but that’s not going to happen!

In a phone call with me this morning Superintendent Gronseth said that the District was going to recommend following the advice I was given by a downtown businessman to bond for Rockridge AND the playgrounds to spare any further drain from our general fund. I told him I was pleased to hear this. But we still are considering a three-year mulch replacement. That’s become a “no go” with me. Frankly. if we managed to replace the mulch for a fraction of that $1.2 million dollar bid I think that voters/taxpayers might begin to regain confidence in the Duluth School Board. What a happy anomaly that would be.

ABOUT THAT IMAGE ABOVE: I requested that one of Duluth’s preeminent artists, Cheng-Khee Chee, make the image for me during an even hotter controversy than we are are now facing over the rubber crumb tire mulch. I devoted a page to that unfolding 2001 crisis on my old website snowbizz.com. Sixteen years have taken a toll on that page. All of the links to News Trib stories on the possible closure of 5 elementary schools are dead because I took down the stories which I had placed on my webpage. I only removed them after a five-year delay long after the Trib’s publisher warned me that I was violating the Trib’s copyright. What remains on that page are only a few workable links and the chronological outline of the day by day progress of that controversy.