A beloved playground in south Minneapolis is on the brink of demolition, but neighbors are determined to intervene.

As more families with children continue to leave Minneapolis than move in, Minneapolis Public Schools is trying to sell off three closed schools while weighing difficult decisions that could include closing additional facilities. Long-obsolete Cooper Elementary in south Minneapolis isn't currently for sale, but its playground could be.

The Cooper playground, located on the northeast side of the school at 44th Avenue S. and 33rd Street, still serves a lively neighborhood with many young families. But after an MPS inspection conducted in May found that the 1997-era playground equipment had begun to warp and break, the district recommended it be decommissioned. Without money to replace it — Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox estimated that would cost $330,000 — the district must demolish the playground unless another public or private organization steps up.

Cooper residents of all ages packed the Howe Elementary School gym on Thursday night to share fond feelings of the playground and declare their commitment to finding a solution. Several neighbors had been among the crew that helped build the playground with neighborhood association funds 26 years ago. Others were active users still.

"There's never five minutes where somebody's not there, because everybody loves that park," said fourth-grader Acadia Olson.

"I think we can all agree, we always have our noses in our iPhones and TV and I feel like just to get outside and have fun is just a big part of our childhoods," added her friend Piper Brown. "We can't have that if we don't have a park."

MPS School Board Member Lori Norvell said that while she has gotten a lot of questions about individual volunteers or a neighborhood group interested in fixing the playground, the district couldn't shoulder the liability in case someone was injured.

Some other entity with liability insurance would have to lease or purchase the playground and raise the money to repair or replace it, said Cox. While the district couldn't provide exact costs, nor a guarantee that a future sale of Cooper school wouldn't result in the loss of the playground anyway, she said the district would accept a "nominal" offer.

"I think it's completely unacceptable — and I think everyone in this room feels the same way, that this playground cannot go away," said neighbor Mary Laurel True, whose grandson uses the playground. "There are plenty of engineers in this town that would do pro bono work ... You can get free wood chips in this town. Look at all these great people who have resources, who have children."

Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson suggested neighbors look into private sources of funding such as the Vikings Foundation, as well as county grants. One consideration, he warned, was that if some other public agency like the Park Board were to take over and apply for grants on the playground's behalf, it would create competition for other capital needs in its existing portfolio.

"We have to take a pragmatic approach to this," Johnson said. "Cooper is closed. I think it would be unreasonable to expect the same level of accessibility of a playground at a closed school as one that is open."

At a Park Board meeting two weeks ago, Commissioner Becky Alper proposed establishing a new fund to address the loss of MPS playgrounds and fields, but it failed on a split vote.

"MPS has over and over again told us that they want us to develop amenities for them to utilize on our parkland using park budget dollars, yet they refuse to help us identify and obtain the funds required to do that," said Commissioner Steffanie Musich, who opposed the measure. "We have so many intense needs on parkland already."

Park staff have estimated that it would cost the Park Board $650,000 to replace Cooper playground.

Some neighbors found the big difference between Park Board and school district quotes for replacement odd.

Lisa Priest, who helped put in the Dowling Elementary playground last year, said materials and labor on that project had cost just over $150,000.

According to MPS, Tuttle School, which is currently for sale, had its playground removed last year. Hamilton School, which is closed and being leased to the city, still has a tot lot that MPS maintains. And Lincoln School, which is closed but not for sale, has an old playground that is in better shape than Cooper's.

"This goes beyond the Cooper neighborhood for me and is a question of how this city draws in families and prevents violence through positive, active public spaces," said Alper. "Certainly this is trending in the wrong direction and warrants attention.

A resident-created website about Cooper playground's dilemma can be found at www.plaympls.org.