Ecole Quarterway Elementary School’s largest play structure is one that is well past its prime.
The wooden playground is old, tired and worn out. Once-shiny metal has mostly turned to rust and some of the wood has splintered.
What’s left of the tire swings are nothing more than a couple of wooden posts that represent better days gone by.
Emma Monpetit knows the structure well.
“I played on that playground when I went to this school,” she said. “Now my kids are running on that.”
Monpetit is part of a group of parents and school staff who are aiming to replace the structure with a “nature-inspired” playground.
“We looked at this and thought we could do something different. We can do something innovative,” Monpetit said.
To help realize their vision, the group hired a landscape architect, who designed a “sustainable” nature-inspired playground that encompasses the school’s landscape and includes slides, climbing walls, a small outdoor classroom, trees, logs and more.
“The idea of a nature-inspired playground is to bring the imaginative play back for children,” Monpetit said. “A rock can be a stage, a log can be a boat. It’s really not that straightforward kind of playing. It’s bringing them back to using their imagination.”
But as with any new playground, especially a nature-inspired one, the cost can be expensive. As a result, the French immersion school has entered in the Aviva Community Fund, a nationwide competition that awards money to unique projects that intend to improve the community.Story continues belowAbove: Conceptual drawings for Quarterway's proposed nature-based playground.
Until Oct. 28, individuals can vote for their favourite project, which are divided up into three categories and two funding brackets of $50,000 and $100,000.
The 15 most-voted projects – the top five from each category – will make it to the finals where they will be judged by a group of panelists.
Quarterway is competing against hundreds of other projects, including four other projects from Nanaimo: Uplands Park Elementary School, McGirr Elementary School, Nanaimo Travellers Lodge Society and Bourbon Road residents.
Uplands Park Elementary School has proposed an accessible playground for the school grounds.
Meanwhile, McGirr Elementary School’s project is also focused around the construction of a playground that is wheelchair accessible and features slides, multiple swings. The project falls is hoping to win in the $50,000 funding bracket.Teresa Fraser, McGirr Elementary School PAC playground committee member, said her school currently doesn't have a playground surface does not allow for wheelchair accessibility or anyone with mobility issues and that there are students who cannot play with their friends. She said winning the $50,000 would be beneficial not only to the students at McGirr but the entire community."It would mean that we would have the only wheelchair swing and accessible school playground in North Nanaimo," she said. "Even after school, our playground is used so much that it would be an option for other families to come and bring their children even with mobility issues."
Nanaimo Travellers Lodge Society has submitted its Eden Gardens compassionate dementia care facility for consideration. The facility, with a construction cost of more than $9 million, is currently under construction and set to open next year.
The fourth project is headed up by a group of residents living on Bourbon Road. They’re hoping to create a park on Bourbon Road after the developer of the subdivision dedicated a plot of land to be created into a green space.
There is also a proposal submitted by he Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute at Vancouver Island University, which is planning to construct a unique community garden in Parksville that will come complete with greenhouses and a commons garden area.
Monpetit said Quarterway is aiming for the $100,000 prize money, adding that in more than three years of fundraising the school has managed to raise a mere $24,000 for the playground’s construction.
“We need the community to vote. We are in the top five, but we can get bumped out so need that push from the community,” she said.
The school district tends to encourage schools to purchase the standard play structures according to Monpetit, who said those playgrounds can lack imagination.
“Manufactured playgrounds result in manufactured play,” she said. “A nature-inspired playground gives you that blank canvas. Kids basically have to use their imagination.”
Monpetit said nature playgrounds can also provide more health benefits for children and better stimulate their adventurous side, adding that because it’s in nature doesn’t mean kids will get bored.
“We go camping and taking our kids to the forest,” she said. “They don’t get bored. They just keep finding new things to do and they make up cool scenarios.”
Even if Quarterway doesn’t win the contest, it still plans to construct a nature-inspired playground.
For more information the playgrounds and projects and to vote please visit www.avivacommunityfund.org.