Students at Montrose Elementary School may soon have a new and improved playground, along with a walking track, after years of fundraising and planning.

Students at Montrose Elementary School may soon have a new and improved playground, along with a walking track, after years of fundraising and planning.

Bexley Board of Education members gave a unanimous nod of approval to the "conceptual design" last week, reserving final approval for when more details of at least part of the project are available.

Although the district is not paying for the project, it reserves the right to approve all construction on its property. The district also will be responsible for all maintenance of the playground once it is complete, and is liable for safety during student play on the equipment.

A standing-room-only crowd was on hand at the board's regular monthly meeting March 10, where the project's coordinator, Meagan Matteson, and several others lobbied for the project.

"The entire Montrose community has come together for fundraisers in an effort to raise the private funds required for a renovation," she told board members last week. "We were, and still are, hopeful that we can be ribbon-cutting ready for the beginning of the school year 2014-2015.

"The children deserve it. And it can't happen without your approval."

The project kicked off two and a half years ago with parent Kevin Brashear spearheading it. Matteson joined the effort about a year ago.

Superintendent Mike Johnson took time to explain the difference between capital improvement projects, which require capital funds, and maintenance projects, which can be paid for out of the district's general fund. But traditionally, the replacement of playground equipment has fallen on the backs of parents through fundraising efforts.

Johnson also compared the district's three elementary schools' playgrounds, basing a proposal for Montrose, in part, on work already completed by the school's playground committee. The cost, he said, would be $64,618 including installation for a structure similar to those at Cassingham and Maryland elementary schools.

But when Matteson made her proposal to board members, the figure was much higher because it included two playground sets, one for the Montrose side of the school, and another for the Remington side of the school, which would be geared toward older children.

"Both of these structures are rated for children (ages) 5 through 12," she told board members. "However, the two structures were designed with specific age groups in mind to help facilitate safe and active play for the whole school."

The plan also includes a one-sixth mile walking path within the fenced perimeter of the field at the school, not only for general student use, but to make for a safer walking environment for the school's seasonal running and walking clubs currently using sidewalks around the school, she said.

Matteson said the track would be paid for by the city, although she had nothing in writing. Board President Marlee Snowdon and others were uncomfortable with the verbal agreement and asked for something in writing.

Board members said they would also be more at ease giving formal approval once the project's funding is on surer footing and closer to their final proposed cost.

According to Matteson, the committee's budget is based on the "possibility of a community build" -- another aspect of the project board members and district officials said they are uncomfortable with because of liability issues.

With $35,000 already in the bank and two grants in the works, Matteson said the committee still has $156,983 to raise. They have been waiting for BRAVO! to finish in order to continue with their own fundraising campaign.

Matteson also made it clear that she was not coming to the board for funding, but merely for approval.

"We are excited about the prospect of the district having a plan to help future renovations to happen in a smoother, faster, and less frustrating manner. However, we do ask that those changes, and whatever district concerns about equity it may bring about (compared to the other two elementary schools) be tabled until after we have been able to install our new playground."

Board members also had concerns about whether the group could raise the full amount needed for the two playgrounds, and asked for a target date by which the committee would either raise the money or scale back the project. In addition, they asked for more specific numbers on maintenance costs.

Last week's "concept approval" was the board's compromise while the committee continues to shore up final plans and financing numbers before returning to the board for final approval.