Everybody can play at a new inclusive and accessible playground at McGirr Elementary School.
The playground’s official opening was Thursday and was the culmination of four years of planning and $400,000 in fundraising, sponsorships and partnerships, spearheaded by the school’s parent advisory committee.
“When children are faced with barriers to something as simple as playing, they are denied access to so many things: life friendship and relationship opportunities, learning life lessons,” said Mabel Houghton, whose daughter Hannah uses a wheelchair. “Today we want all children to know that they are part of this community and they need to feel that they belong, no matter their ability.”
School principal Gregg Halfyard said the PAC showed “unwavering dedication” to the project and school district trustee Bill Robinson praised the PAC with every superlative in the dictionary.
The entire playground has a forgiving rubber surface recycled from old tires and some of the features include accessible swings and a merry-go-round, as well as music-making features such as drums and xylophones.
“It’s not just thinking about a surface or a few pieces of equipment. It’s about thinking about every child in the school and what they need,” said Marika Van Dommelen of the Rick Hansen Foundation. “It’s about thinking about all sorts of different types of disabilities and how can we accommodate every single one of those and make it possible for every single child in this school and in this community to be part of what’s going on on the playground.”
Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell called the opening of the McGirr school playground “an incredible moment for our community.” She said she brought her son to Parksville’s Community Park many times when he was young, though it wasn’t accessible for her.
“I didn’t have a place where I could go and play at the playground with him … I never got to sit at the bottom of the slide and catch my child coming down and see that happy smile,” she said.
Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, Rick Hansen Foundation Access4All and the federal government were some of the supporters of the project.
Marco Di Buono, associate vice-president with Jumpstart, told those at the grand opening that “you’re here to unveil this amazing new playground, but you’re also here for the beginning of a movement towards accessibility and inclusion for every child with different abilities across this country.”
Houghton suggested that movement needs to include a different way of thinking about abilities and accessibility.
“Inclusion means you are included in everything, everywhere, all the time,” she said.