Many schools in Sudbury are vying for a dubious distinction — they are hoping to be named the winner of the 'ugliest school yard' contest.

The contest has been run annually in Sudbury for almost a decade. The winners receive up to $50,000 to re-green their school yard, and runners-up also receive some funding.

Wayne Hugli worked with the City of Sudbury to start the Ugliest School Yard contest in 2005 and he is part of the committee that picks the winner.

Even though more than 30 school yards have had a makeover in Sudbury, there are still plenty of entries, he said.

"As a retired teacher, I have been at a lot of those ugly school yards," Hugli mused.

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Wayne Hugli helped start Sudbury's Ugliest School Yard contest in 2005. He works with Stephen Monet from the City of Sudbury on re-greening plans for winning schools. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"At one time, the philosophy was to make it maintenance-free. So the school yards tended to be mostly gravel and asphalt. We are trying to bring back that green space that was there originally."

Part of re-greening

The contest is also part of Sudbury's world-renowned re-greening project.

"Right from the very beginning, back in the mid-1970s, some of the earliest areas to receive trees were actually done with school groups," said Stephen Monet, the manager of environmental planning initiatives for Sudbury.

"You can raise awareness with them about the whole re-greening program, what it was like before and the part that they need to play," Monet said.

Over the years, winning schools have put in everything from grass play areas to outdoor classrooms.

Tricia Dowdall-Cirelli was the principal at one of the previous winners — St. John's Catholic Elementary in Garson.

She said the kids had a simple request for their revamped school yard.

"They weren't asking for big fancy play structures. The No.1 choice they wanted was grass."

Hugli said at least 10 schools entered the ugliest school yard contest this year.

The contest committee will pick a winner next month.

No playground at new schools

Some entries in the Ugliest School Yard contest come from brand new schools.

Walden Public school opened in 2009 and was a runner up in the contest in 2011.

The province does not provide funding for the school yard when it approves a new school, said Norm Blaseg, the director of education with the Rainbow District School Board.

"The ministry does not fund for that. So that's something you usually go outside the ministry to attain," he said.

"I guess they see their core business as the educational side, and they would probably like to, but it's not feasible for them."

Blaseg said the cost of landscaping a school yard ranges from $5,000 to $100,000 if play structure are also included.

Walden Public parent council member Noreen McChesney said the lack of ministry funding is challenging.

"If you look at child development as a whole, the outdoor play space and the outdoor experience that children have during school is a huge component," she said. 

Walden Public School has just finished raising $60,000 dollars to green the school yard, McChesney added.