City extends summer playground program
Superior's Summer Playground Program will extend to 10 weeks this summer, but registration and fee collection will remain the same as last year.
"We're going to ask people to pre-register, but we're not going to ask that they pre-register for the field trip expenses," said Linda Cadotte, parks, recreation and forestry director. "The field trip expenses will be handled the same as last year, which is they pick and choose which field trips they go to and they bring the fee for the field trip the day of."
No one, she stressed, will be turned away due to inability to pay.
The program, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at six city parks, provides supervised play and outdoor fun in a safe environment for children ages 5-11. Free lunch and snacks are also provided at the sites through the Superior school district. Staff members on site are trained in CPR and first aid. The program will run from June 11 to Aug. 17.
Based on surveys handed out to families involved in the program last year, the city Parks Commission in March approved a new format — preregistration with a weekly fee that covered field trip costs, a total of $200 for the entire summer. That decision was reversed Thursday after nearly a dozen residents spoke up against the move.
Jack Ondrik, 10, has been going to the playground program since he was 5.
"I had a blast at parks and rec, and this is my last year and I just want other kids to have that chance to do it," he told the commissioners. "And I don't think that they will come because of the price, $200. I think that you could probably lower it or make it free like it was."
His mother, Stacey Minter, said the program gives kids a great day in the sun, away from a screen. And they come home tired.
Minter is a former playground program attendee.
"I went when it was out by the East End fire hall," she said. "I loved it and I loved box hockey. It was the best. I remember all of that."
But if the price tag was $200 per child, Minter said, it wouldn't have been feasible to send Jack and his 5-year-old sister this year.
The program's roots reach back to a girls softball program in the 1950s and 1960s, Cadotte said. It morphed over the years to include swimming lessons at Superior High School, then the YMCA. Field trips in recent years have included the Edge waterpark, skating at the World of Wheels and Adventure Zone.
Many of the commissioners, including Geof Wendorf, attended the playground program as children. It wasn't the field trips they remembered; it was the time playing with friends and facing off in box hockey. But numbers have waned over the years.
"We're real disappointed with the numbers we're tracking," Wendorf said. "What can we do differently to make it more attractive?"
Last year, 351 children registered for the program. On average, 75 children a day could be found in the parks. Attendance varied, Cadotte said, often shooting up on field trip days. She said the program costs about $50,000 a year for the city to run. Staffing costs are expected to increase by about $10,000 this summer due to the extended season.
The commission voted Thursday to return to last year's format and pull a few field trips off the calendar.
"We did send out the surveys at the end of the year, that's where we got our information and we tried to adapt it to a plan for this year," commission chairman Keith Kern said. "Obviously, we didn't get enough input, so I think it was important for us to have this meeting tonight, to hear what citizens wanted."
When Ondrik heard the $200 charge was gone, he gave a fist pump. He's looking forward to a summer of fun at Gouge Park, this time with his sister in tow.
"I get to make new friends, see old ones, have fun out in the sun," he said.
Visit www.ci.superior.wi.us for registration forms or more information; pre-registration is encouraged to help determine staffing for the parks. The Summer Playground Program is listed under the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department; call (715) 395-7200. Registration is also accepted at the parks.