Kimberly Fielding doesn't want to lose the new play structure outside her west Wichita primary school.
"Our kids need somewhere to play," said Fielding, owner of Branches Academy, a private kindergarten through second-grade school that opened in August.
"It's new. It's tasteful. I don't want anything ostentatious myself, because I care about the community.... I truly don't see the problem."
But after a nearby dentist's office complained that the play structure lowers property values and blocks patients' view of a pond, owners of the Chadsworth Plaza development near 25th North and Maize Road told Fielding last week that the swingset would have to go.
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"One of our parents said, 'This is just a few curmudgeon building owners who are ganging up on little children.' And unfortunately, that kind of seems like what it is."
What it is, technically, is a classic covenant dispute. Fielding and her landlord did not ask permission from surrounding property owners before erecting the play structure in July, a requirement of the office park's bylaws.
After a tenant complained, the governing group, the Chadsworth Plaza Master Association, told Fielding to remove the structure.
Neither the dentist, Stephen Fetzik, nor property owners would return repeated calls and requests for interviews.
When asked whether Branches Academy had been told to remove the play structure, property owner Brian Suellentrop said, "I can neither confirm nor deny that." He declined to comment further on the dispute.
Fielding said she and her landlord, Chuck Woodard, didn't seek permission for the play structure because "no previous additions or renovations have been taken to the association."
Over the past few years, an ice cream parlor added outdoor benches, another property owner built a storage shed and Fielding added a fence and play equipment outside Honey Tree Academy, a private preschool she operates in a nearby building.
"No one had a problem with any of that," she said.
The play structure, about 8 feet wide by 13 feet long, features a swing, a slide, a climbing wall, a trapeze-style bar and a tire swing. Fielding says she chose a green and brown color scheme to "fit in with the surroundings." Her students have a 15-minute morning recess about three times a week, and go outside for 30 minutes each afternoon.
Now Fielding, who pays about $7,500 a month in rent for her two buildings and spent about $9,000 on the play structure, has few options. Without an outdoor play space, her school will likely not meet state health requirements or be accredited. Moving would be difficult since the school year just started, she said.
She has about 110 students between the two locations.
"This is a great location," she said. "It's very quiet back here, it's peaceful, it's a great place for a school.... These children are in no way a nuisance. I can't even believe this is an issue."
She said she hopes the property owners will reconsider and allow the play structure to stay, or let her move it elsewhere on the property.
Kristy Smith, whose son, Jack, attends kindergarten at Branches Academy, said the situation "is just a shame, because it's a really nice school.
"Is it the end of the world? No. They're little kids. It's a play set. It's just one of those things that's kind of a shame," she said. "The only ones that will be hurt by this are the little kids."