COLUMBIA — Lee Elementary School will expand its playground this spring into a small section of school property currently part of Paquin Park.
The project, which will include raised garden beds, native Missouri plants, a stage and a seating area, is being funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"We want to make it as full of nature as possible," Lee Principal Teresa VanDover said.
Teachers from each grade level had some input for new features as well, VanDover said.
The school district will install a fence this spring to define the new boundary, but city park staff will maintain the fence. The new Lee playground will be open to the public during non-school hours.
"We really just want a safe setting for the kids," VanDover said.
Phil Steinhaus, chief executive officer of the Columbia Housing Authority, which manages Paquin Tower, said he's excited about the changes. He said there have been problems in the past with drug and alcohol use near the playground and that the expansion should curb that.
"Our residents (at Paquin Tower) like the raised gardens and the park but can be scared of homeless persons and others using that back area," Steinhaus said. "This change should improve the safety of the area because that section (of the park) was obscured from street view."
At its Feb. 2 meeting, City Council asked that a formal agreement between the city and the school district be drafted. An agreement between the two would allow Paquin Tower residents to continue using a portion of school property that gives them access to the ADA entrance of Paquin Park's community gardens.
Jack Jensen, the school district's assistant superintendent for elementary education, said a memorandum of understanding should be ready soon.
The city and school district have a history of working together on combined parks and playgrounds.
Parks Services manager Mike Griggs called it "a great working relationship."
Jensen said the Lee-Paquin arrangement is evidence of that.
“It is another example of how, when (the school district and city) come together, playgrounds and parks can be improved,” Jensen said.