The USD 290 board of education found itself divided Monday night.

In the process of upgrading playgrounds at Lincoln and Garfield elementary schools, the board was faced with the choice of sticking with the district’s bond-issue playground contractor, AB Creative, or opening the project up for bid. After discussion, the board voted 4-3 to use AB Creative as the playground equipment provider, with board members Harold Wingert, Shanda Olmsted, and Chris Cunningham voting against.

Ryan Cobbs, district superintendent, recommended the board stick with AB Creative.

“AB is the company that put in the equipment at Garfield,” he said. “A big part of this project is to take it down and put it back up...There is no company better than the one that created it to make sure that can happen.”

Cobbs also recapped the board’s progress so far on the issue. Earlier on in the process, AB Creative had approached USD 290 with an unofficial cost estimate of $856,000.

“When we met last time, we heard that the $856,000 price tag is too high, but we also want to make sure that we have more turf,” Cobbs said. “AB creative and DLR have come together and put a package together that is about $70,000 less than what was initially proposed and turfs every aspect of the playground.”

Board members Chris Cunningham, Shanda Olmsted and Harold Wingert voiced their opposition to forgoing the bidding process, Cunningham questioning potentially extraneous line items and Olmstead questioning the contractor’s apparent ability to alter its estimates so quickly.

“I just find it interesting that, in a two-week time period, they can reduce their cost by $70,000,” Olmstead said.

“It leaves me sitting here thinking, ‘What other money is buried in there?’” Cunningham said.

Cobbs responded said the reduction of cost was due to a design rehash, not to a lesser quality of playground equipment. Principals from the elementary schools voiced their support for using AB Creative, and other board members noted the State of Kansas has vetted and approved AB Creative.

“We’ve asked AB creative to do a lot of things, and they’ve spent a lot of time developing this project,” Cobbs said in closing. “From our standpoint, AB Creative has provided everything that we have wanted in a provider for playground equipment. We know exactly what we are going to get, and we are well within our reason and rights to continue with AB Creative. The price they’ve estimated is fair.”

Julie Dandreo, board president, clarified that all estimates from AB Creative are unofficial, and that the company has not approached USD 290 with official figures.