'Anybody will be able to use this': Westfield School seeks new playground

Staff at Westfield Elementary School is looking to replace one of its playgrounds with a playset that all children can make use of.

The push for the playground came because of an increase in the number of special needs students this year

Westfield Elementary School is hoping to have its K-2 playset replaced with one that is more inclusive. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Staff at Westfield Elementary School are making plans to replace one of its playgrounds with an inclusive playset that more children can make use of.

The goal is to replace a rusting metal slide and play equipment with a set that has wheelchair ramps, rubber surfaces instead of gravel, swings that accommodate children with mobility issues and more.

"Everybody and anybody will be able to use this playground," said Jeanne Connors, vice-principal of the school.

Designed for all special needs

Jocelyn Myatt, right, and Jeanne Connors, left, are principal and vice-principal, respectively, of Westfield Elementary. The nearest school with inclusive playground facilities is on the west side of Saint John. (Joseph Tunney/CBC News)

Connors said plans include games built into a wall that might help blind students or children with autism.

She said children with autism often play on the peripheries of the playground.

"Not only is it sensory but it gives them an environment in which they would be able to socialize and play with other children to play," she said.

Principal Jocelyn Myatt said the decision to push for the playground came because of an increase in the number of special needs students — with more on the way.

While students in wheelchairs or walkers still go outside on breaks, she said it's hard to ensure they're included.

No nearby alternative

One piece of playground equipment the school is looking at is an "inclusive spinner," which a student would be strapped into and then spun by a teacher. (Joseph Tunney/CBC News)

Westfield Elementary services a large area, Myatt said, from Welsford, Browns Flat to Martinon.

"Part of the problem with being a rural school is, really, in order for our students to have access to a playground that would be all inclusive, they'd have to drive to the west side [of Saint John]," Myatt said.

That might be feasible if you live in Martinon but probably isn't if you live in Browns Flat.

Although the Westfield Elementary students would benefit the most, Myatt said the playset would be used by the entire community.

The school is in the process or applying to different funding opportunities.

Connors said the cost is approximately $60,000, and if the school receives the funds the plan would be to have the playset ready for students after summer.