Parent group working towards new school and community playground

Leah Elzinga (right) shows off the plans for the Morinville Public Elementary School playground to Benita Pederson after a recent presentation to the Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce. The proposed playground will carry a dragon theme in keeping with the school’s mascot.
– Stephen Dafoe Photo

by Stephen Dafoe

Morinville Public Elementary School Parents Fundraising Association members have been actively raising monies for a new playground that will serve both the school’s growing number of students but also the community as a whole. The school has expanded from its initial 280 students in their first year to 420 students this school year, a number that surpasses the capabilities of the existing school playground, one MPESPFA President Leah Elzinga says was intended to accommodate 100 children. As the school is estimated to have 480 to 500 students in the 2014-2015 school year, parents are eager to get a larger playground project underway.

Elzinga said though a school playground could be seen as a school problem, she argues that once the buzzer rings at the end of the day, the playground becomes the community’s playground, accessible to all who would wish to use it. “If you are a kid in that nieghbourhood, that’s your park. It doesn’t matter what school you go to. They’re your swings. It’s your slide. It belongs to all of the kids in our community, and it’s our responsibility to take care of it and make it the best it can be.” The PFA sees their future playground as more than a piece of school equipment. Rather, the group considers it a hub for the community, one that will be built over three phases.

Phase one will address what the group sees as a dire lack of equipment in the playground. “What this means is a huge structure that we call the Castle,” Elzinga said, noting the structure will contain three levels with four slides, a rock climbing wall, and a draw bridge. The initial phase will add traditional pieces to the playground but seek to include elements for students with sensory disabilities.

Additional elements will include two new sets of monkey bars and two sensory pods that will be beneficial to children with autism. “The cosy cocoons in particular have been added as a starting point in our progress towards greater inclusion for students with physical, emotional and mental challenges,” Elzinga explained, adding the cocoons were chosen after consultation with parents, teachers and support staff to provide a safe sensory-free place right in the school playground. The pods will allow children to do repetitive movements like conventional playground equipment without being removed from their classmates. “The cocoons are just one of the therapeutic pieces of equipment that will slowly integrate over the following phases.

More phases to come

Elzinga said Phase 2 would see the replacement of two existing structures on the north side of the existing playground with new equipment, including items to improve sensory learning for children with autism in particular but for all children in general.

Phase Three will include cosmetic items to beautify the playground and surrounding grounds. “Our great dream for the playground is to actually function as a part of this neighbourhood,” Elzinga said, adding the final phase would include the addition of benches and tables where families could congregate as well as a path winding through the park to allow better access. “It also means greening things up, adding landscaping and a community gardens.”

Funding key

The total Phase One additions will provide accommodations for more than 120 students and neighbourhood children and is the phase Elzinga said will need the largest capital investment. The initial cash goal is $70,000 to facilitate the $150,000 price tag for the playground. The PFA has raised $30,000 over the past 18 months.

Though half way to their $70,000 goal, Elzinga said they need to come up with the remaining monies by Jan. 1 2015 in order to be able to break ground that summer. Obtaining the $70,000 in cash will allow the group to apply for matching grant monies.

Last weekend’s Third Annual Morinville Public Elementary School Carnival was another opportunity for the fundraising group to raise funds for their project. Although priding themselves on making a community event that was devoid of any costs for participants, the group held a raffle during the one-day event to raise more money for the playground. Additionally, the group holds either a silent auction or raffle each year during their school concert at Christmas. They are actively pursuing corporate and private sponsorships to make Phase One happen and remain confident of achieving their goal and making the new playground a reality.

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