Ogre plans EUR 1.7-million playground

While Rēzekne municipality is currently trying to overcome a financial crisis and plug the budget gap of almost four million euros, another municipality closer to Rīga, Ogre municipality, has kicked off to create a new children's playground of just under two million euros, taking out a loan to the Treasury, Latvian Radio reported on September 7.

Beyond the Ogre Cultural Center is a large rundown area, flanked by residential homes and a gambling hall. If all goes as expected, next summer there will be a rather unusual children's playground, referred to as an active recreation area in municipal documents.

"In the center of the square is a stylized wooden castle with various climbing and balancing elements, with a rope bridge, with slides. A wooden wall with towers is planned around. It is planned that it will contain information about Latvian castles, chiefs, especially with an emphasis on Ogre municipality," Aija Romanovska, head of the development and planning division of Ogre municipality, said.

The visual solution was created by the "Latvian Soldier" (Latvijas Karavīrs) association, whose offer was considered the best price in the survey, and which has already carried out the reconstruction of Tērvete Castle hill.

While the city already has two public playgrounds, demographic trends have pointed to another need, and the most accessible for all would be central Ogre, the municipality spokeswoman explained.

A week ago, a public consultation concluded, with 578 questionnaires completed. 86% of the population supported the idea and made various proposals. Ogre City Council has made this project a priority and is preparing procurement for builders. How much will it cost?

“Our construction engineers and society have made estimates, with VAT it could be 1.7 million, borrowing for this year is 15%, according to Ministry of Finance guidelines the risk starts if there is 20%,” the local government spokeswoman said.

The cost of the playground was not mentioned in the public consultation, according to Ogre resident and independent journalist Māris Rožāns, who is not an opponent of the playground but the way it is set up.

"It's a bit worrying that this is happening now that borrowing at the Treasury has become more expensive and that a municipality as big as Ogre needs to borrow money to build a playground. There was a population survey, but we always have it like in the Soviet Union, only offer one option," Rožāns said.

He noticed another nuance in the presentation of the object.

In its territory is a chess area with figures sampled by a photograph by Mayor Egils Helmanis, also seen on his Facebook profile.

'If MPs were shown what those chess figures would be, then the population poll had the photos removed, but as it now turns out, those chess figures will be just that. And people are not fools either, they know art and they know they are exactly the same figures that City Council chairman Helmanis photographed last December while secretly visiting the European Union sanctions-listed Pyotr Aven on the Klauģi estate,” Rožāns said.

Helmanis has been the source of several recent controversies. As previously reported by LSM, he was responsible for inviting sanctioned Russian oligarch (and Latvian citizen) Pyotr Aven to display his collection of porcelain at the city's museum, sparking protests, not least from the museum's employees who claim they have been coerced into unethical and potentially illegal activity by the dictats of the mayor.

In response, Helmanis appears to have become even more strident in his relationship with the museum, with several more clashes and online arguments ending up with the bizarre 'sealing' of the office of the director of the Ogre Museum by members of the council, even though such a "sealing" has no legal force, and resembles the sort of legal circus more usually associated with the repressive regime of Russia.

Other controversies involving Helmanis have included and his involvement as an instructor with a vigilante group, and tangles with anti-graft police.

Is this plan to be realized? Latvijas Radio asked Romanovska, Head of the Development and planning division:

“We received more than one proposal from the Latvian Soldier Society. There were both wooden sculpture proposals, 20s-30s porcelain product proposals, and antique materials and websites. The most appealing was this material, as I understand it, the works of Romāns Suta.” The municipality had not sought information about the copyrights of this piece of art.

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