Swinging on the monkey bars and rocketing down a slide at recess is an elementary school experience many children take for granted, but buying playground equipment for schools can be a big job for local parents.
Historically, school-based parent groups have been responsible for buying and installing playground equipment; once in place, the district takes over ownership and responsibility for maintaining the equipment.
Pete Sabo, the district’s director of planning and operations, remembers building provincially funded schools in the 90s, but relying on parents to provide the playground to go with the new building, as no dollars were allotted for this in project agreements.
Last fall was the first time he can remember the province announcing money for playgrounds – $8 million to be handed out to districts to ensure all children have a safe place to play.
Nanaimo did not qualify for any funding for the first two rounds of distribution in the program, but ministry officials say a third round of funding will be announced shortly.
Sabo said once the money is used up, there’s no guarantee the province will renew this commitment, and he’s not sure how many schools will be helped.
While $8 million is a good chunk of change, he said playgrounds cost thousands of dollars.
“They’re very expensive and there’s really not an average because it depends on the size of the playground they want to put in,” said Sabo. “A bigger school will buy more equipment.”
He said parents can expect to pay between $30,000 and $80,000 to buy and install a new playground and about $10,000 for just a freestanding slide.
There are 10 schools on the district’s high priority list for playground replacements or major upgrades, Sabo added, and the district hopes the new metal and plastic playgrounds will have a lifespan of more than 30 years – many on the high priority list are wooden structures with a lifespan of about 20 years because the wood rots over time and is susceptible to cracking and splitting.
Playgrounds undergo a major inspection every six months and if parts have deteriorated or are found unsafe for other reasons, they are removed. The district can replace broken parts out of its maintenance budget if the manufacturer is still around and it is not too expensive, said Sabo.
“At some point, it’s just at the end of its life,” he said.
And besides maintaining the playground, the district also helps out by readying the site and once the equipment is installed, using district labour and machinery to do the finishing work such as borders and pea gravel, said Sabo.
But getting to the installation phase can be a long haul.
Parents at Bayview Elementary School have been fundraising for years just to add some pieces to an existing playground and replace the parts that were removed due to vandalism.
Sheri Levi, president of the Bayview parent group, said parents have raised a little more than $9,000 and they estimate they need about $12,000.
“Playground equipment is very costly, as we’re discovering,” she said. “I started fundraising for the playground equipment about five years ago. To replace the whole adventure playground would cost about $50,000. My daughter is in Grade 6. I’d really like to get it accomplished before I leave.”
About half of the funds raised by the Bayview parents go towards the playground fund, said Levi. The remaining dollars are spent at the school, buying books for the library, giving students more field trip opportunities and helping families with shoes, eyeglasses and other items to help students come to school prepared to learn.
“We have a high density of families living in poverty,” said Levi.
The Bayview group is having its last fundraiser of the year tonight – a beer and burger and silent auction at the Harewood Arms from 6-9 p.m.
Julie Addison, in charge of fundraising for the Chase River Elementary School parent group, said the group has been working towards replacing the school’s old wooden playground for at least a couple years and they figure they will reach their goal of $25,000 a couple more years from now.
Chase River is the district’s No. 1 priority for replacement because it’s getting so old, district staff have had to pull parts off.
“They’ve been pulling boards off it piece by piece, whatever breaks,” she said. “It’s getting to be pretty slim pickings. I heard it was big before.”
Some dollars raised go towards other initiatives or items at the school, Addison added.
Seaview Elementary School parents have also picked out a new playground for the school that will cost about $50,000 – the school is the district’s third highest priority because it also has an old wooden structure that is slowly deteriorating – and are working towards that goal.
When Premier Christy Clark announced the playground funding last fall, she said learning continues outside the classroom and providing safe places to play makes children happier, healthier and ready to learn.
Levi said the equipment parents want to install at Bayview is designed to increase fine motor skills and the equipment helps children become more receptive to learning.
“When children are given outdoor free play time, that’s when their brains start to connect in different ways that help enhance learning,” she said.
The district’s top 10 priorities for playground replacement/upgrades
1. Chase River
2. Ladysmith Intermediate
6. Uplands Park
8. Georgia Avenue
10. North Oyster